Click here to see more photos of the artwork, listen to an interview with the artist, and see a virtual tour of the exhibit.
With his easy smile and an arm around his towheaded 9-year-old daughter in her pale pink dress, one might find it hard to believe that Banta’s art resembles the stuff that nightmares are made of.
At Grover Beach’s ECHO Artspace, a haven for alternative works, art aficionados came to view Banta’s first art showing titled “Dark But Shiny” Saturday night.
Ghoulish masks and lurid, bright paintings adorned the walls, along with a lit display case, luminaries painted with pictures of clowns and a slideshow of seemingly random images of old and manipulated photography, obscure art and even a montage of Paris Hilton pictures that Banta said help inspire his work.
“A lot of people hate their nightmares,” Banta said. “But oftentimes I wake up and say ‘Wow, that was really cool what I saw.’ So a lot of times. I try to go off of that.”
Banta, who works as an art director and designs logos for a San Luis Obispo bank to “pay the bills,” pointed to his brightly-colored clown luminaries as an example of the dark humor that comes through in his work.
“The dichotomy of the night lights is it says ‘Good Night’ (on the lights), but obviously the joke is difficulty going to sleep with the clown looking at you.”
Banta’s mother Judy Holloway, said her son’s work requires a certain type of person to appreciate it.
“When you explain it to people you say ‘Well, it’s not the kind of stuff you hang over your couch,’” Holloway said. “But it appeals to a certain type of person. They have to be avant-garde and modern.”
With the exception of one original painting and the masks reminiscent of ones that could be worn in a G-rated horror film, Banta’s wall art is mostly graphic design.
Debra Hood, who mused over the art with her wide-eyed family in tow, said she found the art to be edgy.
“It’s ironic (he’s) taking these childlike colors and images and making a dark spin on it,” Hood said.
Banta, who described his work as underground art that can take 30 hours or more to create, laughed when asked what message he hopes to send as an artist.
“I just want… people to derive their own message out of it. I keep telling them I don’t really have a message,” Banta said.
“I just have a passion for creating. It makes me feel good. That’s my release. Somebody may force me to think about it someday like a well-paid psychoanalyst or something but I don’t usually do it that way.”
Craig Young, Banta’s neighbor in Nipomo, said the art provoked conflicting feelings in him.
“You get intrigued by it,” Young said. “You’re kind of a little bit weirded out by it but at the same time you keep wanting to look at it.”
Connie Anderson, a data control system analyst at Cal Poly, said she really could appreciate Banta’s creations being an artist herself.
“What these remind me of is Walt Disney characters forced into some kind of a carnival abstract,” Anderson said. “(The) carnival theme. brings back nightmares anyway because everybody always makes fun of those carnies. Your mind just kind of goes (wild) and that’s why I like art so much.”
Linda Camplese, creative director of ECHO Artspace, said that she gravitates to “macabre art.”
“I think what makes his work interesting is that it’s slick,” Camplese said. “It’s almost corporate-slick but when you look at it, it’s a little bit unsettling and a little bit disturbing but also often bright and colorful and eye-catching. So it sort of draws you in . but then once you sort of get in, that space where he wants you to be is a little bit disturbing.”
As the crowd of roughly 50 people milled about ECHO Artspace, music pulsated under the direction of a DJ and a spinning disco ball cast light about the room.
Elaina Shenberg praised ECHO Artspace for “bringing urban art to rural San Luis County.”
“It’s bringing this particular culture (that) we are lacking to the Central Coast,” Shenberg said. “Where (else) would you see this?”
Mike Gerber, who was studying a painting next to Shenberg, agreed.
“I think it brings this alternative art to an audience that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. You’re not going to see this at the Clark Center,” Gerber said. “(Plus), it hosts a lot of charitable events.”
With the help of artists volunteering time and effort, Camplese helped to create ECHO Artspace among a neighborhood of storage units near the quiet outskirts of Grover Beach about a year and a half ago.
“When I started this place I thought there were plenty of galleries to show beautiful watercolors of Morro Bay but there aren’t a lot black-walled spaces to show alternative kinds of work,” Camplese said.
“And the space is a hybrid, it’s not actually just an art gallery, it’s also a performance space and.it can be turned into whatever the artist needs, whether they need it to be a theater.or a gallery,” she said.
We have dancing, we have circus arts, we have a unicycle group and we have fire spinners. I hope (people) can have an opportunity to see work from an artist they may have never seen before and I hope this artist goes on to show at other places in the county.”
Camplese added that the name for ECHO Artspace came from the nature of the space itself.
“We find all kinds of people who come in and find a way to make their project happen,” Camplese said. “We chose the name ECHO because it’s something that we sort of send a message out and hope that other artists come back; that they kind of hear it.”