New York Artist Inspired By Norwegian Black Metal

May 15, 2005

Randy Kennedy of The New York Times has issued the following report:

In Oslo in the summer of 1993, a guitarist named Snorre Ruch [THORNS mastermind] — part of Norway's emergent cult of black metal, extreme heavy metal with overtones of arson and suicide — served as the accomplice to a gruesome murder in which a musician was stabbed more than 20 times in the back and head.

Mr. Ruch drove the murderer from the scene and was later sentenced to eight years in prison, where his worldview apparently did not brighten much. (Sample lyrics from a post-prison album: "Deep down in the black slime of this earth restless limbs are at work/ Deep down beneath the dark tar of this land decrepit lungs crave air.")

So when an up-and-coming New York painter and sculptor named Banks Violette began courting Mr. Ruch by e-mail recently, trying to persuade him to compose music to accompany an artwork, Mr. Violette assumed the guitarist might brush him off, seeing him as an effete black-metal voyeur. Instead, after Mr. Ruch looked at examples of Mr. Violette's work, he replied with completely different reservations about the collaboration.

"I don't know," Mr. Ruch wrote. "You seem like a really dark person."

Sitting in a cavernous studio in Williamsburg recently, Mr. Violette laughed as he related the story.

At 31, with a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University and the theory-laced vocabulary of a literature professor, Mr. Violette does not seem particularly dark. But behind him in the studio loomed a huge spectral structure that testified at the very least to his abiding fascination with the chaos of the world. It was a 12-foot-tall replica of a church, or more accurately the charred beams and gables left standing after a church had been burned. Instead of wood, however,the entire structure was made from salt, creating an architectural skeleton that at once evokes high Minimalism, gothic creepiness and a kind of ethereal ice-palace beauty.

The whole church, which seems to float atop a mirror-shiny platform of black epoxy, will soon be disassembled and moved to the Whitney Museum of American Art, where it will serve as Mr. Violette's first solo museum exhibition and further evidence of his rapidly rising profile in the art world. The installation, on view beginning May 27, represents an unusual amount of space and attention given to an artist so early in his career, and in a way it could be thought of as Mr. Violette's victory in the Whitney Biennial sweepstakes. A piece of his was included in last year's exhibition, and that work — another meditation on rock and death, using JUDAS PRIEST, Neil Young and Kurt Cobain as raw material — was singled out for praise by several critics. Pieces of his work are now not only in the Whitney's collection, but in those of the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Saatchi collection in London.

Read the rest of the story at (free registration required).

Find more on
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • reddit
  • email