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Robert Banks and Dexter Davis

Color Me Boneface

Mar 18-Jun 5, 2022

Robert Banks and Dexter Davis, circa 1980

Longtime friends, Cleveland-based filmmaker Robert Banks and Cleveland-based painter Dexter Davis both embody a distinctly experimental vision, one that fosters an active exploration of the intersection between art and life. Though they work in different mediums, both Banks and Davis’s work harnesses abstraction’s potential to map personal, political, and psychological landscapes, using innovative techniques to reconstruct images. The artists grew up together in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood and, together in the 1980s, attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. Their artistic practices and lives continued to intertwine beyond art school, resulting in a longstanding friendship firmly rooted in shared experiences, material exploration, and a profound commitment to visual storytelling.

Color Me Boneface is a film and exhibition project that Banks envisioned based on his belief that Davis’s impactful practice has gone largely unnoticed and is deserving of (re)discovery. Beginning in November of 2021, Banks and Davis transformed a portion of moCa’s Mueller Family Gallery into a working studio, where Banks filmed Davis creating new work; conducted interviews with him, his friends, family, and colleagues; and collaborated with students from Cleveland’s NewBridge Center for Arts and Technology to shoot, create, and edit footage shot over Davis’s lifetime into seven short films. Functioning like an expanded portrait, Banks’s films both capture the essence of Davis’s creative spirit and exemplify his own commitment to film as a physical object, revealing the incredible material beauty inherent in the medium of analog moving image. The seven short films will premiere at the Cleveland Cinematheque on June 2, 2022, followed by an in-depth conversation between the artists.

Guided by the spirit of collaboration, the exhibition portion of Color Me Boneface presents a selection of Davis’s work complemented by photographs taken by NewBridge students documenting his artistic process. Mounted closely together, these photographs echo the filmstrips Banks uses in his moving image work, including the seven short films centering on Davis. The exhibition is organized in a loosely chronological fashion, beginning with Headhunter (1994), a large-scale mixed media piece that captivates visitors immediately upon entering the gallery. Moving clockwise through time, the most recently-created work featured in the exhibition, Rebecca Werner (2020), is the final touchpoint before entering the Cohen Family Gallery, which showcases footage from the Color Me Boneface films.

A fixture in the Cleveland arts community, Davis’s work lives in the homes of many local collectors. Works presented in this exhibition are borrowed by friends and supporters who have been following alongside Davis’s artistic journey. This element of the project reiterates the ways in which strong relationships undergird both Banks and Davis’s practices.

At every level, Color Me Boneface reminds us of the power in embracing curiosity, criticality, and complexity, not just in visual culture, but in our friendship and kinship circles as well.

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