When your mom’s friends call you old, that’s how you know you’re getting up there.
Such was my weekend, as I sat chatting with Mom and her besties. My approaching birthday is apparently the point of no return; that is, becoming OLD. Sure, sure, I can see it. I get it. When I was 15, I thought anyone over, say, 25, was impossibly up there too.
Well, I can’t say I feel old. I’m not sure if artist Joe Banda does either, but he does locate the point where a Millennial might get those ‘feels.’
“You don’t feel old until you meet someone born after 9/11,” we read on a VHS tape painted with a grimacing figure.
This grump is but one of many tapes Banda has painted with portraits for a solo show at New Bedford Art Museum. A collective display of anxieties, these tapes speak most clearly to a Millennial perspective. We’re obsessed with our alienation, you know. So we like to complain about it.
That’s why Banda’s tapes are a funny, thoughtful medium to use. They recall a time when there were only so many narratives and cliques to choose from. And yet, as Banda’s census shows, most of these options ended up wallowing in the same anxieties. If you can remember September 11, then you know one of these characters, or are one of them.
A few of Banda’s lamenters:
“Has anyone noticed that I’m back on my bullshit? Do they care?”
“I wear hats all the time because I’m ashamed of my hair.”
“Turns out I’m not my dream job’s dream employee.”
It’s not worth spoiling every good bit here. Better to note that Banda can paint as well as he can crack jokes. He turns wood panels into stomping grounds for fantastic crowd scenes. Banda seems to like the sophisticated playground of a shaped canvas, too. He populates a number of head-shaped wooden boards with devils, creeps, masked men, the irate and the normal, as well as plenty of mutants.
Banda tends to segment his paintings into irregular-shaped panels. A grid is still there; it’s just glimpsed through wobbly vision. They’re like junk drawers pulled open from the psyche, with a pleasing I Spy feel. FaceTime and The Void, two paintings on cardboard from 2021, find Banda paring down the number of visual elements. These two are obviously influenced by the quarantine era. In their isolation they find heightened, focused technique. Here the compositions rival Banda’s rich appreciation for irony.
An artist bio describes Banda as “struggling through high school academically and socially.” Twenty years ago it was still easy for nerds or artistic kids to be synonymous with outcasts. Something as normal as anime was considered weird by most. Now, subcultures are mediated by layers upon layers of niche interests. People aren’t watching the same VHS tapes anymore. They’re watching the same tiktoks.
But who remembers that leap we once took into the next millennium, and the kids who bounded over? Well, only someone born last century would write a sentence that corny. We’re kids no longer, as Banda’s chorus indicates, and we haven’t been in a while.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s going to get better. It better,” reads one canvas.
It’s good to resist pessimism, but the trap is understandably gleaming. Exclusion just hit different back then. Those of us who grew up with some of the last meaningful and most embittered ‘culture wars’ know that being even minimally weird back then could inaugurate a lifetime of not fitting in.
That such a story is common is sad. But perhaps it’s also as Banda portrays it: a little bit funny, too.
FYI: Joe Banda's solo show is on view (coincidentally) through September 11 at New Bedford Art Museum, 608 Pleasant Street. The Museum asks that you reserve tickets online. Standard admission is $10.