Scottish painter Lesley Banks tells Jan Patience that she draws her greatest inspiration from what’s around her
Behind most successful artists is an inspirational figure and for Lesley Banks, who grew up in the Stirlingshire town of Denny, it was her art teacher, Jimmy Dunn – a man she describes as “a wonderful artist”.
“He ran one of the best art departments in Scotland at Denny High School,” she says. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be painting for a living today, although I’d wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. He’s retired now. I received an exquisite hand-drawn Christmas card from him just a couple of weeks ago. If I could draw and paint as well as he does, I would be very happy indeed.”
Banks, 44, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art, is well known for her interiors and figurative work – particularly a series of paintings of Glasgow’s Arlington Baths Club that she started back in 1992 and to which she returned 10 years later. Her bold use of colour and broad brushwork recalls the immediacy of impres- sionism and her choice of subject matter is always close to home.
Her many admirers include Travis frontman Fran Healy and art collector Baroness Helena Kennedy, who chose Banks, along with fellow Scottish painters Helen Flockhart, Peter Thomson and James Tweedie, to represent her favourite artists in the prestigious Discerning Eye exhibition in London. Inclusion in that show has reignited interest in Banks’s work in the capital and she is now working towards a show in London’s Thompson’s Gallery in March next year.
Most recently, home – or to be precise, her former home – has been an inspiration. Her latest paintings depict the home life of Rachel and Joseph, a young couple who currently live in the flat that Banks shared with her ex-husband and young son in West Princes Street, Glasgow in the early 1990s. A small exhibition of these paintings went on show at Cyril Gerber Fine Art Gallery in Glasgow last month.
“For the past year I have been slowly getting back into painting after a break when I had my two younger sons,” she explains. “I went to Italy this summer and did some landscapes of Tuscany in a place called San Gimignano, which I have painted in the past. It was a good way of getting back into putting paint onto canvas and dipping my toe in the water again.”
The inspiration for her Home paintings came from listening to the novelist Julie Myerson being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour. “I was breastfeeding my youngest son,” she explains, “and I happened to hear Julie Myerson talking about her latest book, called Home. In it, she tells the story of how she delved into the past life of the house she shares in London with her family.
“I thought it would be really interesting to go back to places where I lived in the past and paint the current residents. It tied in with my habit of always painting things that are around me.
“Revisiting the flat was quite an emotional experience. I contacted Julie about the fact I was basing the paintings on this idea and she made the interesting comment that the past is “more slippery” than the present.
“Painting what’s around me is second nature. I go to San Gimignano and I paint, my friends come round to the house and I paint them, I’m a member of the Arlington Baths Club, so I paint that.”
Banks’s work is in many public collections, including Aberdeen Art Gallery, BBC Scotland and theGallery ofModern Art in Glasgow as well as being in many private collections worldwide. For more information about Lesley Banks and tobuy her paintings, visit www.scotlandart.com
Alexander’s Dark Band, one of Banks’s paintings inspired by Julie Myerson