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Lesley Banks

Artist Lesley Banks’ next exhibition celebrates Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters. She tells us about the canals residency that started it all

Picture credit: Scottish Canals

In 2016 Lesley Banks became Scottish Canals’ first – and only – Artist in Residence. Although officially a 15-month project, she’s continued to hold the title on an informal basis ever since. Now, in Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters, new relevance has been given to Lesley’s canal-inspired artworks, and an exhibition at the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, was due to open this summer. Sadly, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has put that on hold. 

Lesley first turned to her local canal – the Forth & Clyde – in 2015 when looking for a new theme for her art but after getting in touch with Scottish Canals was encouraged to expand the project. With funding in place, she was then faced with the daunting task of exploring all of Scotland’s navigable waterways, plus sections of the derelict Monkland Canal. 

In trying to pin down what she was doing, she decided to approach the canals from the perspective of a pedestrian. “I did go out on some boats and it could have gone off in so many different directions but ultimately everything was tied up with walking. When I came to start painting, I created five mini exhibitions in one. I allocated each canal its own size and shape of canvas and presented them like journeys following the towpaths. It needed to have some coherence and planning it out like this made it less daunting.”

The Crinan and Caledonian canals were given horizontal canvasses, as Lesley found her attention constantly being pulled from one side to the other, especially on the Crinan where at times the towpath is situated directly between the sea and the canal. “The Union, on the other hand, is a contour canal with virtually no locks, and I found myself looking ahead all the time to the next bridge, the next aqueduct, so those paintings are on vertical canvasses,” she explains. 

While Covid-19 may have stalled her summer exhibition, Lesley still hopes it can open to the public in the autumn, and visitors will be able to view a selection of her paintings from the Gongoozler project and three coastal artworks, accompanied by supporting studies. 

Read the full interview in 'On the cut' in September 2020 Waterways World