Alameda Artist Jamie Banes Accentuates the Art in Architecture

The Alameda artist begins his mixed media, assemblages, and sculptures with found or collected material from the most unusual sources.


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Photo by Clayton Mitchell

The mixed media, assemblage, and sculptural works of Alameda artist Jamie Banes resemble the remains of architectural cityscapes, and there is a reason for that. Exhibited on the wall or as stand-alone pieces, the work crisscrosses his world view with personal life experiences from a life of building things.

Banes grew up in a blue-collar household in Reno, Nevada, in a family who valued skilled labor. His father was a construction worker, and Banes joined him on construction sites from age 12 to adulthood. “These early experiences helped shape my interest in architecture and the built environment and continue to inform my work,” Banes said.

His current work is a collection of eccentric architectural models, maps, and cityscapes — imagery that connects him to those early experiences and working with his dad.

Banes joined the Navy at 21 to become a surgical technologist, struck by the similarity of surgery and construction work. “They both involve the use of highly specialized tools and techniques and require steady hands. Even some of the terminology is similar. This caused me to begin thinking about the built environment as a massive organic living entity, constantly morphing and regenerating like the body,” he said.

He ultimately found his way to art, studying art and architecture at the University of New Mexico and UC Davis before settling in the Bay Area in 2007. He moved to Alameda in 2009.

Banes cited several influences on his art, from experimental architects Lebbeus Woods and Zaha Hadid to modernist painters Wayne Thiebaud, Hieronymus Bosch, Charles Sheeler, and Frida Kahlo. “I’ve also had the good fortune to work alongside sculptors Roger Berry and Patrick Dougherty,” he said, artists who create work that is environment specific.

Banes uses elements of formal design, color, texture, composition, and movement in his sculptures, which often employ pattern and repetition. “I’m trying to create a dialog between materials, placing seemingly disparate objects together to create unexpected relationships between elements. I’ve been interested in building up texture and approaching each piece as though I’m making a painting or drawing.”

Working mostly with found and collected materials, Banes begins his work outside the studio by organizing materials he acquires from sources like SCRAP, the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, Urban Ore, woodshops, curbsides, or dumpsters.

Themes that permeate his art include consumerism, capitalism, the current political climate, technology vs. handmade, environmental impact, ecological decay, waste, excess, gentrification, and wealth disparity.

“The dystopian architectural cityscapes are reflective of the current discord of the nation. I think of them as portraits or snapshots of our present reality, symbolizing difficult and uncertain times,” he said.

“We think of buildings as emblems of shelter, structure, and stability, yet you get the sense here that those expectations may not hold true. Things feel uneasy and transitory. There is a hint of uncertainty and fear. Elements appear to be unraveling from below, exposing the ‘guts’ or inner workings of the city,” he said about one of his newest pieces, Drastic Measure.

“The work’s attachment to the wall is meant to provide accessibility and investigation but also reveal vulnerability and a feeling of impending peril, as though a massive tectonic slab has been gouged from the earth’s crust and precariously balanced upon a questionable matrix.”

Banes uses scale to create intimacy within psychological space, informing his work by a dream state that feels familiar yet surreal.

“In dreams the concepts of time and scale are confused and irrelevant. So in my work, I try to communicate directly with the psyche, attempting to engage multiple layers of consciousness. I’m using an architectural language to imagine and interpret that exchange,” he said.

Banes’ sculptures offer multiple levels of information and narrative, and the artist suggested viewers might relate to them as visions of the past, present, and future; an allegorical reference to heaven, hell, and earth; or as a set of multiple dimensions of the same space.

Banes recently collaborated on a project called Inundation with artists Liz Hickok and Phil Spitler. They created an interactive time-lapse video using a cityscape as a set they flooded with water and mono-ammonium phosphate to promote crystal growth on the model. Viewers could interact with an iPad controlling a 360-degree camera, watching the growth over any portion of the model during the two-week duration of filming.

Banes, a husband and father of three, has worked professionally in art and architecture over the past 15 years, including managing student wood and metal shops at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. He has worked in galleries and museums and is a fabricator at SFMOMA on design and construction for exhibitions.

“I like that I never really know what I might be working on next. And I like being able to look back at the end of the day and see something tangible that I created with my hands. My work process is not unlike my studio process and I really enjoy getting to stay in creative, maker mode most days,” he said.

Banes has exhibited around California and Nevada and regularly at Autobody Fine Arts Gallery where he maintains a studio. His installation Inundation is on view at Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek as part of The Great Wave: Contemporary Art about the Ocean through March 22. Learn more about the artist at JamieBanes.com