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Paintings capture 9/11's chaos

Artist will address commemoration crowd in Pennsylvania

September 11, 2011|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com
  • Artist Denise Bankuti works on a clay sculpture in her home studio. (File photo)
Artist Denise Bankuti works on a clay sculpture in her…

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Denise Bankuti’s phone rang and the caller alerted her to turn on her television. In the days to come, as Bankuti watched the reports, she was moved by the decisions forced upon those in the World Trade Center, and by the responders who charged up the towers uncertain of their return.

An artist since she was a girl growing up in Burbank, Bankuti, 60, took to her canvas in her home studio within days. “Every second you’re watching TV, new scenes were coming up, new information,” she said. She began a nine-foot-by-five-foot piece titled “Chaos,” capturing the speed with which the day moved. The images are of Bankuti’s first reactions minutes before the towers fell. “I don’t always paint in abstract, but I used that because it was so abstract,” she said.

In “Chaos,” the towers are filled with numbers signifying the morning’s questions of how many people were lost, saved and in the buildings. Two office women stand for the grim reality those in the towers faced — “how they went to work like any other day, poured their coffee, went to their desk and now forced into, ‘Do I jump or do I burn?’” Bankuti said.

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Within the first year of 9/11, Bankuti completed two more pieces, titled, “We Will Never Forget ” and “The Last Thing I Remember.”

Each piece was selected for a 10th anniversary memorial art exhibit spearheaded by Penn State Berks, a college in the Pennsylvania state system, in Spring Township, Penn. Out of 40 artists whose mixed media, photography, paintings and installation pieces belong to the exhibit, Bankuti was selected to give a speech. She is humbled by that decision, as many of the participating artists lost loved ones that day and in one case, an artist lost her work as her studio was in the World Trade Center.

For the first anniversary of 9/11, Bankuti donated her mixed media piece, “We Will Never Forget,” to the city of Burbank. The piece incorporates the dust masks worn in the aftermath, and on 30 masks, for September’s 30 days, Bankuti created scenes of the day’s subsequent events: people trapped in rubble; anthrax threats; news headlines. One of those scenes has come to pass. It features green toy soldiers surrounding a captured Osama bin Laden.

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