Collectors have paid countless millions for the works of the late pop artist Andy Warhol. One, in fact, paid $100 million for Warhol’s 1963 canvas, “Eight Elvises.”
But whom did Warhol collect?
Turns out he eyed Walter Darby Bannard, a leader in the 1960s Minimalist art movement who The New York Times called “a Color Field painter whose elegant, severe abstract paintings of the late 1950s and early ’60s were the springboard for a lifetime’s exploration of color, form and the physicality of paint.”
Bannard died Oct. 2 in Miami of liver cancer. He was 82.
As professor and head of the painting program at the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Art and Art History at the University of Miami, one of Bannard’s passions was to escape into his retreat on campus, a studio on the second floor of a UM art building.
There, amid more than 400 bottles of paint, along with brushes and boxes of memorabilia, Bannard would stand on the paint-flecked cement floor and paint for hours after teaching class.
“I come into this place and all of the bull---- stays out, like a film coming off me,” he told the Herald in 2011. “It’s work making art, an awful lot of anxiety and pressure to get it right and self-criticism built into it. I can’t live without it.”
And, it turns out, he couldn’t live without his students.
“The better students are always willing to try anything. They want to make art their life, and when you get a student who is really talented it’s a real joy,” he told the Herald. “I suffer for them when they don’t do well.”
As a kid, I was sort of a prodigy. When I was 6, I was drawing realistic pictures of birds. I was very intense about that. I’ve written all my life about art.
Darby Bannard, to the Miami Herald in 2011.
After more than a quarter-century at the UM, he left an impression on the school, too.
“Darby’s contributions to the art world will be remembered by his peers, collectors and critics, and most importantly, by the hundreds of students whom he inspired by his work, his teaching, and his mentoring,” said Perri Lee Roberts, art history professor and chair of the UM’s Department of Art and Art History, in an obituary published by the school.
Bannard, whose keen critical intelligence was reflected in his many essays on art, spent more than half a century elaborating and revising the distillation of color and form that made him an important voice in the nascent Color Field movement, sometimes called postpainterly abstraction.
Soon after graduating from Princeton, where he found common cause with the painter Frank Stella and the critic Michael Fried, the critic Clement Greenberg included him in the pivotal show “Post Painterly Abstraction” at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1964. The Museum of Modern Art in New York showed his work the following year in “The Responsive Eye.”
Bannard, born Sept. 23, 1934, in New Haven, was on his way.
Bannard earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Princeton in 1956. At college he became absorbed in painting and soon began experimenting in the manner of Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, two prominent painters in the field of Abstract Expressionists. He had his first solo show at New York City’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1965.
In 1989, he became chairman of the art department at the University of Miami.
In his studio retreat there, in 2011, Bannard remembered that meeting with Warhol. And he chuckled when he thought of that odd man with the snowy white hair who bought some of his paintings.
“I told him, ‘Oh Andy, it’s great that you like my paintings.’”
Warhol’s response floored the then-fledgling artist.
“Oh, I just bought them for investment,” Warhol told Bannard.
Bannard is survived by his wife, Kathleen; two sons, William and Trevor; a brother, Robert; and a sister, Elizabeth Snookey.
This obituary was supplemented with material from The New York Times. Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.