The Roanoke Times
Friday, November 21, 2014  

Arts & Extras: Roanoke Artist Renders Complex Still Lifes in Ballpoint Pen
By Mike Allen 

​Aspiring artists who have doodled with a ballpoint pen during class should visit Roanoke artist Gerry Bannan’s show at the Taubman Museum of Art. They will either find a wealth of inspiration or concede defeat and put that pen down for good.

“Gerry Bannan: Vanitas” features a series of spectacular still life drawings that are large and dense with symbolism, sumptuously three-dimensional, and all rendered in ballpoint pen. Bannan even has a favorite brand — BIC Cristal black — which he uses to draw on sheets of Mylar, a type of polyester film.

“It just is a very satisfying medium,” he said. “I like the way it delivers ink to the page.” Even the ink’s tendency to change gradually from blue to sepia as it oxidizes suits his plan for the art.

Bannan’s meticulous penmanship even reproduces the patterns and textures of different kinds of cloth. “I love doing that stuff,” he said. “The fact that it’s difficult is what makes it really enjoyable.”

A New Jersey native, Bannan, 50, teaches art at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville. He and his wife, artist Betsy Hale Bannan, create most of their works at BanG Studios at 425 4th Street S.W. in downtown Roanoke.

Gerry Bannan is known for large, dynamically colored paintings, which is why Amy Moorefield, the Taubman’s deputy director of exhibitions, was surprised in a good way when she visited his studio and saw the drawings in progress that would end up on display in “Vanitas.”

Until that point, “Gerry was in my ‘painting’ box,” she said.

The still lifes, which took three years to complete, are meant to recall the works of masters such as 16th century German engraver Albrecht Durer and 17th century Dutch painters Pieter Claesz and Rachel Ruysch.

“Vanitas” as a theme in art comes from a Bible verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity.” “Vanitas” paintings and etchings echo this call to humility in the midst of materialism. They make use of memento mori, symbols intended to remind us of our mortality, ranging from the obvious (skulls, wilting flowers, empty shells) to more metaphorical objects (scissors, bells).

Bannan also said he’s influenced by the work of M.C. Escher, best known for his drawings of impossible staircases and creatures interlocking like puzzle pieces. “He was an incredible draftsman,” Bannan said, “He has a whole body of work that’s really beautifully observed.”

A few symbols with more personal meanings are interspersed in the elaborate compositions.

One drawing, “Requiem: Remember Not to Forget,” includes coins that bear the year Bannan’s father was born and the year he died. There’s an idea perpetuated in “Vanitas” art that you can live on after death in the memories of others, Bannan said.

Moorefield suggested that Bannan include in the exhibition a couple of the actual arrangements of objects that he used to inspire his drawings. The arrangements can be viewed as sculptures assembled from found objects.

Dorsey and Linda Taylor of LinDor Arts gallery downtown provided frames for the drawings, which Bannan felt greatly enhance the impact of the art. “I’d really like to give a lot of praise to everybody involved in the installation. I couldn’t be happier with it.”

His wife, Betsy Hale Bannan, will have a show of her own opening Dec. 5 in the Francis T. Eck Exhibition Corridor in the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. The center will display two of her multi-panel modular paintings, “Fly Over” and “The Big Country,” based on aerial views of landscapes.


Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Va.

October 11, 2014 - March 21, 2015