Joan Bankemper was born in Covington, Kentucky in 1959. She received a B.F.A. from Kansas City Art Institute, Missouri and an M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Mount Royal Graduate School, Baltimore.
The artist’s ceramic mosaic vessels grow out of 15 years of commitment to creating urban gardens with the help of surrounding communities. She has worked on projects in New York, Boston, Palermo, Italy and San Antonio, Texas, among others addressing the relationship of people to nature as reflected in the contemporary urban landscape. Â 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 flour mill. For each of her garden projects, the artist worked within a conceptual framework, each a kind of sculpture in nature.
Her ceramic mosaics follow her love of nature and its transformations as the seasons change. 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 assemblagist 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, animals and figurines; a yellow bird sits on the handle of a blue fish pitcher while a hand-built blue bird and a bevy of bees buzz around “In Pod,” a buttery yellow urn topped off with black decals of bees and words for the consummate cookie jar: cookies, pasta, sugar, coffee, tea, cookies again. Several birds bedeck the top of the urn, and many species of flowers create a garden at its bottom, all perched on an antique tureen base that becomes the foot of the vessel. Combin-ing historical ceramics, 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. Â These are not simple pieces; they are complex tapestries of life.
The artist’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 garden venues such as Wave Hill, Bronx, New York; Abington Art Center, Jenkinton, Pennsylvania as well as extensively in Italy.