Brian Banash, a graphic illustration artist, discovered Durango 25 years ago, when younger brother, Kevin, moved here from Southern California for the skiing.
Banash, who has been a frequent visitor since, is back a little more regularly now, and he plans to spend more time skiing than surfing and selling his artwork at his new shop Blues, Mtn & Soul at 915 Main Ave.
His illustrations on canvas feature vivid, iconic images of blues and rock ’n’ roll stars as well as caricatures of classic Southwest Colorado scenes.
“I’ll be back and forth between here and Southern California, but spending more time here,” Banash said at the space adorned with giant wall-sized re-creations of his work in a space that formerly housed the mortgage division of TBK bank.
Banash originally came to Durango five months ago with plans to open the shop in about two weeks with his business partner and studio co-owner, Owen Dake, who also owns Durango’s Skywalker Construction.
But COVID-19 and the complications of opening the business have drawn out the opening process, and Banash said he still doesn’t consider the studio to be officially open.
“This is the longest soft opening in history,” he said. “We still need a point-of-sale system and to hire some employees, but if people want to come in and look around and buy something, our doors are open.”
His art emerged first from his passion for surfing.
“I started with my pioneers of the surf series, my surf art,” he said. “It’s all my art from the coast of California to Hawaii, and now the surf art has progressed into Durango local illustrations. Owen and I have been working on this idea for the last year. It’s 20 years’ worth of my art.”
Hayley Kirkman, executive director of the Durango Creative Arts District, is encouraged to see a new art gallery opening.
“It’s wonderful to see new arts businesses emerging out of the pandemic in Durango, especially ones that provide a unique viewing and shopping experience for locals and visitors alike,” she said. “I’m excited and encouraged to see artists boldly moving forward and finding advantageous outlets for their creative expression.”
One of the main factors bringing Banash to Durango, he said, is the crazy pace of life and the increasing population growth in his Southern California hub, Encinitas, in north San Diego County.
He’s always dreamed of having his own studio and shop to operate his related Banash Illustrations graphic art business, and Durango proved the right locale to make his dream a reality.
“It still seems surreal I have my own place,” he said.
His art will remain on sale in a half dozen or so restaurants along the coast of Southern California from Cardiff to Leucadia.
His work featuring blues and rock ’n’ roll stars originally began after he began getting requests for them from customers at the Southern California restaurants showing his art. Illustration of musical legends are now proving popular with Southwest Coloradans.
Some of his most popular local landscape scenes are his take on El Rancho, the Olde Schoolhouse pizzeria and The Durango Diner.
“First it’s just something you feel, you feel it in your soul, and you’ve just got to capture it,” Banash said. “I draw a lot to preserve things. These are my interpretations of places. Sometimes it’s artists.”
Banash first sketches his idea out with pencil, then adds colors using ink and scans it to digital – creating a vector file he can scale up without the image pixelating. He can then apply his image to canvas, wood, metal, ceramic, cloth or other mediums.
“But everything starts with a simple sketch,” he said. “A lot of people go straight to the computer. But I like drawing stuff. I’ve always drawn.”
Banash Illustrations, his graphic art firm, will take commissions and do custom pieces.
Besides the various sizes of canvas illustrations, Banash’s artwork is available on hoodies, stickers, T-shirts and other items.
The artwork also soon will be available on a website, bluesmtnsoul.com, which is now under development.
Perhaps not unusual in Southern California, but strikingly jarring for Durango is Blues, Mtn & Soul’s window display featuring black-and-white graphic illustrations of Johnny Cash and Lemmy, lead singer and bassist of Motörhead.
The illustrations feature each of the singers raising the middle-finger salute with the words “F--- COVID” next to them.
“People love them. Right now, they’re my best-sellers,” he said.
Now, he’s getting special orders for similar illustrations featuring patrons’ other favorite artists.
“My parents said, ‘You can’t put that in the window,’” he said. “I told them, ‘They’re my best-sellers’ And they said, ‘Oh, maybe it’s OK.’”
George Gober, a retired firefighter from Houston, now living in Durango, was in the shop Wednesday to buy Banash’s artistic take on The Durango Diner, featuring the diner’s old sign from 40 years ago and a restored 1966 GMC Suburban Carryall that Banash had seen in front of the diner.
It turns out the car belongs to Gober, who is a Durango Diner regular.
“I found it in a Mississippi swamp. I fixed it up for my wife. It took 18 months. We call it ‘Hank, the haul all,’” Gober said.
“I didn’t know about George, but I knew about his car. I just connected the two to each other now. I thought this guy is either going to love it or he’s going kill me,” Banash said. “Fortunately, he loved it. He left smiling. That’s what you want.”