12 Questions: Michael Banning

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Michael Banning was born in Boulder, Colorado in 1966. He received his BFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder and his MFA from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Banning’s oil paintings and drawings of contemporary American urban, industrial, and domestic landscapes have been exhibited in solo exhibitions in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and New York City. His work was most recently exhibited in a solo exhibition at the Edward Hopper House museum and study center in Nyack, NY, in 2019.

Banning’s work has also been included in regional group exhibitions at several Midwestern institutions, including the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, the Rockford Art Museum, the Kohler Art Center, the South Bend Regional Museum of Art, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and Manifest Creative Research Gallery in Cincinnati, among others. Banning is the recipient of grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, and the City of Chicago, where he lived for seven years. Banning and his wife, artist Melanie Pankau, live in Minneapolis where he teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design and Metropolitan State University.


1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? What are you reading or watching right now?

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Gottfried Bammes, Die Gestalt Des Menschen  (a great comprehensive guide to anatomy and a philosophy of learning the anatomy of the figure. A version of this book is available in English also: Gottfried Bammes, A Complete Guide to Anatomy for Artists and Illustrators).

Cormack McCarthy, The Road

2. What are you currently working on? Are you able to create during the pandemic?

For me, creating artwork during the pandemic hasn’t been too different than before. I am currently working on paintings of interior spaces and find myself inside almost all of the time so there’s plenty of inspiration. In fact, because I’m home at times that I might not normally be, I’ve noticed small details about how the light passes through the space of my home that I might have otherwise missed. Luckily, I moved my studio space from an external studio to my house shortly before the pandemic started, so I’m able to work from home.

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

Like many art students, much of my undergraduate art-making activity consisted of constantly changing my mind – about what kind of artist I wanted to be, about what kind of paintings I wanted to make, etc. This led me to starting many paintings with no idea about how they would turn out and/or changing my mind so many times within the space of a single painting that by the time I was done (if I ever finished) I would have 10 completely different paintings underneath the one on top.


My eventual understanding of this pattern of working has led me to be sometimes obstinately committed to a single kind of painting. I tend to get into a way of making and interest in a particular subject matter and stick with it for a while. This is because I have such a fear of constantly “spinning my wheels” and getting nowhere, as an undergrad art professor once told me I was doing. I think being able to dig into certain themes for years at a time has been helpful in the depth of my making and overall professional career.


4. What is your most unusual habit?

I’m not sure if I have any really unusual ones. I do tend to be a night owl though and can easily work until 3 or 4 in the morning. The time at this hour of the night just seems to stand still and hours can go by with me not really thinking about time. I wish I didn’t have this habit! because I get out of sync with the rhythms of everyone else.

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why? Include a photo if you would like.

It would be fantastic to be painted by Antonio Lopez Garcia. First of all, I love his work. On the one hand, he is a marvelous technician, but perhaps more importantly I think his work reveals truths about the people and places he paints. He also makes bizarre decisions in the paintings sometimes that defy common sense but work really well. Selfishly, if he would create a portrait of me, I also know I would get to spend a lot of time with him as he only works from direct observation and most of his works have a long duration of making.

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office?

One of the most indispensable items in my studio is my mahl stick. I bought it when I was 21 years old and have used it ever since!

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

I rarely feel uninspired. Contemporary life is so busy that I’m also fighting for time to get in the studio and never have a shortage of projects to work on. I think it’s important to give yourself deadlines and have commitments to other people with your work too. Sometimes you want to make work, sometimes you need to make work to meet a deadline. Either way, you are always working and the more you work the better you get and the more you understand yourself.


I do frequently get overwhelmed though. For me the best remedy to being overwhelmed is to organize and clean. I find a chaotic space amplifies anxieties about meeting deadlines and having a clear vision of the work.


8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time?

I think the answer to this question depends on what kind of artist/ person you are. I’m adverse to the idea that artists are all the same and need to make the same kind of contribution to culture. Some artists channel their political convictions through their work and share alternative or marginalized points of view related to current topics and realities while other artists choose to turn inward and focus on their own subjective realities. Society needs both of these kinds of artists and all the combinations outside and in between these two polarities. I think the important thing is for the artist to be true to themselves.

9. Do you collect anything?

 I collect books on figure drawing. Because I’ve taught figure drawing for a number of years, I’m constantly in search of new approaches and am really interested in the history of figured drawing.

10.  What words of advice would you give to artists during this time?

I think we have to see hidden opportunities that my lie within our current situations and make the best of them. The most important thing is to keep working and try to stay connected to fellow artists/ friends.

11.  In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

In the studio, I’ve become much more of a paint mixer than I used to be. In the past, each painting session was created using a new disposable palette and/or many works were created through mostly mixing paint on the painting itself. I also tend to paint in multiple transparent layers and this approach doesn’t lend itself to paint mixing. I rarely used a palette knife. Teaching painting has changed my approach to this and now I love to mix paint and clean my glass palette frequently. This has opened up a whole new awareness of color relationships and more continuity to my practice.

12.  Share an inspiring image.

This is an image by American artist Catherine Murphy. She’s an amazing realist and works, as I understand it, mostly from direct observation and memory. I love this painting that so clearly communicates a feeling of interiority and also is a realistic glimpse into studio life. I’m also really interested in wallpaper and flat or one-point perspective right now.


Catherine Murphy, "Paintings for Paintings", 1989, Oil on canvas, 47” x 39”


Michael's work is available on ARTSY as a part of the ongoing online exclusive exhibition: Spaces Between. For more information about the work above visit ARTSY





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