Banks Violette – As yet untitled (2011)


The material and form employed in the three-dimensional works of Banks Violette (New York, 1973, lives and works in New York) are reminiscent of Minimalism. However, Violette’s subject matter is all about excess. Youth and subcultures, including the metal and gothic movements, along with the excesses that are sometimes associated with these groups, such as satanism and ritual suicide, often serve as a source of inspiration in his work, which has been referred to as New Gothic Art. Violette’s installations are often literally based on actual, horrific events, such as the murder of a teenage girl by members of a high-school band, for which some people blamed the speed-metal band Slayer. The boys were fans of Slayer and thought their crime would earn them a reputation in the metal scene. Violette depicted this tragic act of insanity in an installation that shows the band members as black, pointed bongos on a stage and the murdered girl as a unicorn, against the backdrop of a painting of a woman’s tearful eyes. This element of people going off the rails and being unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality is emphasised by the theatricality of Violette’s installations, as though they were the scene of an act of violence or the set of a horror movie.

Another characteristic feature of Violette’s body of work, which includes graphite drawings in addition to sculptures and installations, is the use of worn-out motifs: images that have been used so often that they have become clichés, such as flags and white galloping horses, for example. Violette reanimates such images, giving them a new life within the context of his own subject matter.


His three-dimensional work conjures up thoughts of violence, aggression, racism and nationalism. Most of this work is deep black, reinforcing its dark nature. However, the work looks polished and is carefully finished, even sophisticated. Materials that Violette frequently uses include fluorescent tubes, metal and glass with a gleaming black finish. Objects from pop music, such as microphone stands and flight cases (the cases used by bands on tour), often feature in his work. For SunnO))) / (Repeater) Decay / Coma Mirror (2006), Violette worked with the metal band SunnO))) (pronounced as ‘sun’). The band provided the music for the installation, and the stage set of their performance served as a basis for the work. Violette used salt to produce casts of the band’s stage equipment. In addition to black, which predominates, white is the only other colour that Violette uses in his works – in the salt that is sometimes sprinkled over the material and at other times used to make an entire sculpture. This salt, particularly in the light of Violette’s subject matter, brings to mind the familiar Bible story of Sodom and Gomorra: the cities destroyed by God to punish their inhabitants for their moral depravity. Only Lot and his family were spared, as long as they did not turn around to look back after leaving the city. Lot’s wife could not resist this temptation and was transformed into a pillar of salt.


Violette’s work for Lustwarande ’11 obstructed a point where the park’s paths intersect. It is a metal barrier, sprayed black. On one side, the barrier is buckled, as though a vehicle has crashed into it at high speed. Violette worked with great precision to create this aggressive-looking distortion in what already forms an intractable obstacle for passing visitors.


Manon Braat / translation Laura Watkinson