Joan Bankemper


Joan Bankemper was born in Covington, Kentucky in 1959.  She received a B.F.A. from the Kansas City Art Institute, Missouri and an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Mount Royal Graduate School, and Baltimore.

The artist’s ceramic vessels grow out of 20 years of commitment to creating urban gardens with the help of surrounding communities.  She has worked on several public community-based art projects addressing the relationship of people to nature as reflected in the contemporary urban landscape.  Her garden projects are not ordinary or formal gardens; they range from restorative healing herb gardens, to gardens based on the shape of the human body, to planting 600 giant sunflowers, which grow from the ruins of a Southern flourmill.  In all of her garden projects, the artist worked within a conceptual framework, each is a sculpture in nature as well as a form of political activism- often blurring the boundaries between art and life.

Bankemper’s ceramic sculpture follows her love of nature.  She loves flowers, birds, bees, all the symbols of the garden and the creatures that help pollinate and cross-pollinate the flowers.  Thus, the birds, bees and flowers are staccato notes on virtually all of her vessels.  Working in the way a collagist or assemblages might, Bankemper creates monumental scale vessels, beginning with a simple glass vase at the core.  She surrounds the glass vase with the shape of an urn, be it tall and graceful with elegant handles, or round and flat with a “canvas-like” field to cover. The ceramic urn that surrounds the glass is the vessel’s first “skin” which the artist builds and often breaks.  She cements sections of the urn together leaving the cemented passages open and raw, yielding an artifact-like surface to the vessel.  She then starts to dress and cloak the vessel with her vocabulary of images, words, molds, etc.  Casting from a collection of 1,500 molds, the artist creates myriad shapes and sizes, combining historical ceramics or creating a “mash up”, contemporary china, hand-built objects, casting from molds that were made between 1958-1998, Bankemper creates an original tableau in ceramic. Everywhere the eye looks, there is something rich, textured and layered for the eye to behold.  These are not simple pieces; they are complex tapestries of life.

Bankemper’s most recent work is making a language out of rolling individual pieces of porcelain clay and sewing them onto raw canvas. The ceramic forms started as buttons and became an alphabet of sorts.  Typically in Bankemper’s ceramics she uses the process of breaking things apart and reorganizing the nature of the subject. Here Bankemper cuts thru the canvas and as a seamstress (or surgeon) she sews it back and symbolically uses the buttons to open and close the piece as if it is a garment, creating a passage of sorts, or a new language.  The process is an essential part of this work.

Bankemper’s work has been shown in many venues, most notably Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California and the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan. Her work has also been exhibited in many site specific venues such as Wave Hill, Bronx, New York; Abington Art Center, Jenkintown, Pennsylvania as well as extensively in Italy. For more information on Joan Bankemper click here and here.

In 2008 Bankemper founded the Black Meadow Barn, a place where culture and horticulture meet. The Black Meadow Barn functions as a gathering place for artists to work and congregate and to formulate ideas. Here Bankemper has been expanding the concept of garden to include food production. She has been propigating and growing black currants (a super food high in anti-oxidants and vitamin C). She now is cultivating over 3oo plants and has developed a signature jam: Black Currant Jam.  To see more go to her blog site the Black Meadow Barn.