Cosmic Consciousness: The Work of Robert Bannister, installation at Krannert Art Museum, 2006. Photo by Kathryn Koca Polite.
On View
Aug 25, 2006–Oct 15, 2006
Main Level, Rosann Gelvin Noel Annex and Light Court

Born in 1911, this outsider artist—a native of  Urbana—spent his early years convalescing  in a local sanitarium. Stricken with anemia in 1950, he left the home of foster grandparents to enter the Champaign County Nursing Home, where an occupational therapist introduced him to carving and drawing. After his release in 1961, he lived in a one-room apartment near West Side Park, painting, drawing, and writing works that are meditations on human life tinged with humor and a self-proclaimed "cosmic consciousness."

“The experience [cosmic consciousness] comes suddenly, without warning, with a sensation of being immersed in a flame or rose colored cloud and is accompanied by a feeling of ecstasy, moral and intellectual illumination in which, like a flash, a clear conception in outline is presented to the mind, of the meaning and drift of the universe.” So wrote Dr. Richard Bucke (1837-1902), a friend of the American poet, Walt Whitman.

Looking at Robert Bannister’s work leaves little doubt that his interest in cosmic consciousness was genuine. Piles of books and articles filled his small rented room on Prairie Street in Champaign, Illinois, revealing his wide range of interests in science, psychology, and self-actualization. He said that he had a “cosmic awareness of human life.” His work is a testament to that belief.

In 1930, suffering from anemia, he entered the Champaign County nursing home. It was during his stay there that Bannister was first introduced to art tools and encouraged to create as part of the home’s new innovative occupational therapy program. There he began painting, drawing, and doing woodcarving until his release in 1961. He showed special interest in topics dealing with cosmic consciousness and psycho cybernetics. His scientific interests coupled with a few anatomy books provided the inspiration to explore his inner thoughts and fancies. Often he worked on the same paintings over a period of years. Bannister used basic materials consisting of Bic pen, colored pencil and crayon or tempera paint and watercolor on paper. His work took on a true intensity due to the almost unlimited time Bannister had to embellish his simple designs—at times wearing the paper thin with repeated ink strokes while other surfaces were heavily built up with numerous applications of paint. Bannister’s unique gift was his way of assimilating life experience and meditation into a visual language tinged with humor. His patience and understanding of life’s mysteries becomes clearer when examining his body of work.

Exhibition programming

September 21
5:30 pm: Gallery Conversation
With exhibition curator Glen C. Davies

Guest curator: Glen C. Davies

Glen Davies divides his time between studio pursuits and a variety of alternative employments. These include circus/carnival showpainter, sideshow banner artist, professional muralist and educator. His works reside in many public and private collections including Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, and the Roger Brown Study Collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1990 he joined artist Randy Johnson to co-curate Palace of Wonders: Sideshow Banners of the Circus and Carnival at Krannert Art Museum.