Most of the time the title guides the viewer, as in: Black Thunder; the Defensive Line; the Offensive Line; recently, there’s a brand new one called Inside the Red Zone – making use of the sports analogies, using them as an instant icon, a method for people to apply the competitive sports to life and death survival in the ferocious natural world.
“If I can find a way for us to relate to the wild on our level, it’s better,” he says. “Because there’s still a huge wall out there that exists between humans and animals. If there was a deer outside your window, you’d look at the deer: you are here and the deer’s world is out there. No matter how close you get, you can’t transcend that world, you can try, but you can’t. So I try to help bridge that gap with creating the gist of the piece coming from the human world reaching and transporting us into the animal world, in a way so that we can learn something about ourselves.”
Sometimes, it’s a title that inspires Banovich. He keeps a list of titles, keywords to feelings he’d like to explore. To fully understand the process Banovich explains how he came upon the perfect way to portray a line he’d had in his head, way before the calamity of World Trade Towers – “United We Stand.” The painting is of cape buffalo: a hundred cape buffalo spread like the horizon beneath an acacia tree. They’re all engaged with the viewer, facing outward. As long as they stay together, they’ll stay, they’ll stand. They’ll be able to face any predator and any threat against them.
“Now, I had that title before September 11,” Banovich says. “But I didn’t have the right scenario for it. Then, as I was filming a PBS television show in the Serengeti last year, we were driving down the road, and I yelled out ‘Stop the vehicle!’ There was one lone tree and, from an abstract position again, and I saw a band of distant trees and mountains. But it was very hazy and it was really just a band of colors, and there was this line of cape buffalo all standing there – I thought this was it.
“I told the guide I wanted the light coming in from the side, so we had to position ourselves. But first I have to get to know the subject,” he continues. “With wildlife they don’t behave the way actors do, I have to use a camera to get a lot of the information I’ll need. I can know something about the subject, in a way that won’t change the conditions. I can help create a unique condition. I knew that if I stayed there long enough the lead buffalo would come forward to check out the threat, see what I was. And that’s exactly what happened. The lead bull started to pull out. But we had to spend time getting the light in the right position. I wanted the tree to become part of the composition. I’m not looking for a photograph I can copy. If I was that good of a photographer, the hell with painting, I’d just take a picture.”
From the expansive amount of information he gathers in the field, Banovich returns to his studio, armed with a single idea and a thousand ways to get it across. But he must choose from all those hours, the lighting, the composition, just the right moment to present to the viewer.
“I have one second between heartbeats to tell my story,” he says. “I only paint ten-percent of all the paintings I want to paint. For every painting that actually comes to fruition, there are ten others that didn’t make it.”
To see more work by John Banovich, visit his website at www.johnbanovich.com
~ Michele Corriel is an award-winning freelance writer living and working in the Gallatin Valley. Her writing has been published regionally as well as nationally. She is currently working on a book about Montana artists.