Sarah Ann Banks

Artist Interview

June 9, 2021
Based in Chicago, Sarah Ann Banks is an artist working primarily with 3D animation software such as Cinema 4D, Substance Painter, and Zbrush. She uses the digital space to develop work that merges modern culture with science and nature. While creating narratives and spaces for these entities, she not only explores the potential futures that they may hold, but also documents concepts and objects relevant to her life, allowing these works to double as personal time capsules.

How would you describe your work and practice to someone new?

-Bright, colorful, and full of cute and silly things.
- As many animals and nature references as there are trendy “girly” accessories.
- A world where futuristic creatures try to piece together ancient human trends for fun.
- A diary of my current interests and my childhood interests, combined.
- Lots of things that make me laugh.
-Thick gooey textures and rainbow lighting.

How did you get into digital art? Is there a defining moment or period where you fell in love with it?

I found 3D animation and digital art while I was getting my BFA! I was working physically at the time, mostly painting and ceramics. I fell in love with the endlessness of 3D and the ability to constantly do/ undo.  You can try every option until something is just right without wasting monetary or physical resources. This way of working just made so much sense for me and the way that I approach projects!

Can you tell us about "eternal youth", the digital installation you created during The De:Formal Residency?

Eternal Youth was inspired by tiny creatures called hydras, that hypothetically can live forever. Scientists found over time that their cells are constantly regenerating and they never show any signs of aging! So with this info, it’s possible that there could be some eternal hydras out there, ones that have lived longer than any human and have experienced the Earth in many phases. I imagined these ancient creatures trying to adapt to the current world's trends and culture in the form of portraits. Hydras posing for glamour shots, couples photos, and more. While combining elements of our current world with these faceless blobby creatures, I explored what kind of things dictate a timespan or define a person when you take away the human form. These hydras are working hard to accommodate to the modern era, wearing wings, gems, and posing for the camera.

Once I began creating the portraits, I became interested in the beginning of the hydra, which is where the landscapes came in.  I felt I couldn't talk about the timelessness of these creatures without exploring their origins. The home page pond is a play on a primordial pool where life could've started, and the meteor strike that you see on this page is based on the idea that life hitchhiked to earth on meteors in the form of tiny cells/organisms.  

This project as whole served as an exploration of the beginning of time, current day, and timeless creatures who might've just floated through all of it.

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What is your process like? Would you walk us through some of it?

Often I'm  super inspired by something I encounter in my daily life, and it just kind of takes off. I like to work fluidly and with loose plans that allow for a lot of changes along the way! The idea I start with always twists and turns into something unexpected, and that's something I love about making work. Sometimes I like an object/ creation so much that I continually sneak it into other projects, almost like an Easter egg/inside joke with myself. This also solidifies the universe that all my work lives in, like they are all connected by webs of silly objects and creatures, sneaking around one and other.The way I know something is moving in the right direction is often if it makes me happy or makes me laugh.

We love the highly polished and stylized aesthetic of your work. Can you tell us how you developed this aesthetic and the influences you had?

Being able to make these really intense textures is also something that drew me to 3D work! Seeing a lot of other artist’s work really influenced me, like Katie Torn, Jack Sachs, Alex Mcleod, and Jonathan Monaghan. I loved all of the complex patterns and lighting. When I started learning how to make these kinds of textures, I couldn't stop! I just love seeing different materials next to each other, metallic, gooey, and glowing. All of these together really pushes the fantasy of a digital work, giving it a deep and tactical feeling, even if it doesn't look realistic in any way. The textures I create bring my work back to life even if the content is super stylized or otherworldly.

Your video "Reverse Wormhole" is such a joy to watch. How did this piece come about? What was on your mind at the time of creating it?

The idea came to me in a dream! I just had this idea about a dog creating matter with its portal head, in this master of the universe kind of way. It creates all the matter that exists! Then I thought, it’s eventually got to create itself, therefore enveloping itself and destroying everything. So after I had that plot down, I just had a lot of fun coming up with the life forms that it would create! Winged soccer balls, 2 headed fish, star orchids, etc. It's an unstable alternate universe with a dalmatian overlord.

How has your work evolved over the last few years?

I think that when I was learning 3D work, I also learned a lot of limitations! Tutorials and classes teach you things in such a specific way, and it’s easy to get stuck in a program thinking that that is the only way to operate. It took time to understand that the digital space is pretty limitless and has few strict rules. I still catch myself limiting myself by random rules that I just developed over time in my head.  

Another big thing I learned is that good work can be funny! I saw so much work in school that felt so heavy and serious, and I didnt feel equipped to produce that kind of content in a successful way. When I started being exposed to work that was silly and made me laugh it was like a lightbulb in my brain went off that was like “ this! this makes way more sense for me!”

Are there any themes, ideas, or techniques you would like to explore next?

I'm definitely moving towards creating more complex characters with lives and stories! I’ve been stuck in a natural landscape and need to break into more of a voice with my worlds/creatures. I also have moved away from long form animation and want to start working on bigger and longer projects again!

The digital art landscape has changed drastically in the past year, accelerated by the pandemic and the uprising of NFT. What do you envision the future of digital art to be like?

I hope the new found passion for digital works sticks around! The biggest positive thing in my opinion that the NFT market did was highlight a lot of really amazing artists who weren’t seen in the same light in traditional spaces. I do see the NFT market hype dying down a little, and hopefully this leaves artists more space to actually sell their work instead of company’s selling gimmicky NFTs.

What are you watching, listening to, or following that you would recommend?

I just watched Wings of Hope. It's a documentary about a woman who fell out of a plane, survived, and lived for 10 days in the Peruvian jungle because of her knowledge of the terrain. It's really amazing and powerful. You can find it on Youtube!

I also am always listening to podcasts-
Criminal, Ologies, Invisibila, RadioLab, This American Life,  and This Podcast will Kill You are some of my favorites!

Is there anything else we should know about you and your work?

A lot of the themes and motifs in my work are things I have loved since I was a kid! I take a lot of inspiration from Limited Too, Tamagotchi, Neopets, Justice, etc. I also was a huge Animal Planet child. Connecting with these interests as an artist really inspires me because I've always been collecting objects and facts, and now I mash them together into creatures and terrains.

Visit Eternal Youth:

For more of Sarah:  |  @ssarahbankss

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