Jean Banas is a 92-year-old abstract expressionist and a major surprise to many critics and collectors who make the ageist and sexist assumption that her dynamic and energetic paintings were created by a much younger man. “That’s true,” she says. “It never occurred to me that only a man could create very strong, dynamic paintings.”
Banas works quickly with multiple brushes in each hand and on two canvases at one time. Scrubbing, rubbing, layering, and looking until a painting is finished or forgotten. A creative risk-taker, she’s not afraid to push a painting too far. “That’s what Picasso said,” she offers. “Paint until you totally destroy the painting and then you’re ready to start painting.”
Banas says she tries to get out of her own way and let the creativity flow through her. “In the beginning, I paint really fast. I totally get lost in my work. After a while, I step back, begin to think a bit more, and the painting starts speaking to me. Sometimes I want to do my own thing, but the painting says, ‘Nope!’”
“Nope” is something she never hears from her 95-year-old husband, Raymond. The two have been married for more than 70 years and live alone in a house that Raymond built. He still makes the frames for Jean’s paintings. “That’s nothing,” he says. “I was a design engineer for decades. A frame for pictures? That’s easy. I enjoy woodwork.” “We’ve had a great marriage,” Jean adds. “Ray has always been my mister fixer upper and mister builder. He’s slowed down now. He has COPD and some memory problems, but we’re still managing. It’s such a blessing to have family and friends that love you and care for you. My art friends mean so much to me because they’re my closest friends.”
In the studio, Banas fights the war of art alone. She loads her brushes with bright colors but doesn’t paint what she calls “pretty pictures.” She’s a non-objective artist whose work in recent years often has a social objective. “I’m affected by books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen and experiences I’ve had,” she says. “I saw the movie “Precious” and it affected me so deeply that I finally came to terms with sexual abuse in my own family. I felt real rage and turned that rage into a series of paintings on sexual abuse. I’ve also created series on slavery and civil rights and war. I’m interested in all forms of social injustice and that comes out in my paintings.” This body of work has evolved into an ongoing “Human Injustice” series; a powerful expression of rage against those who victimize the powerless.
Gloria Steinem once said, “Women grow radical with age. One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth.” Banas believes that age has given her the ability, the privilege, and the obligation to make social statements. “I had to paint for many, many years to develop all these feelings and express them on canvas,” she says. “I have no plans to slow down.”
Jean Banas has never painted for recognition but admits that this later-in-life attention feels pretty good. “This is just so overwhelming to me. Having openings, giving interviews, recording videos, and presenting art talks. It’s going to take me a while to come down-to-earth, I think.”
To see more of Jean’s work, visit jeanbanas.com