This past week marked the end of a chapter in the remarkable art life of Anna Banana.
A crew from a Portland, Oregon stamp company came up on March 2 and carted away Banana’s century-old Rosbak pinhole perforator, a machine the size of a table saw, which the Roberts Creek artist had used to punch perforations in sheets of the stamp art she produced for more than 30 years.
Stamp art, which might seem like rather a niche form, has thousands of adherents, collectors and practitioners worldwide. It has become an art form in itself, but also has been used practically by businesses and artists for promotion of their products and work. When they send someone a letter or package, in addition to the paid-for postage, they might add a few stamps of their own art or consumer goods for publicity and a bit of fun.
Banana has made a big part of her living producing custom-made sheets of stamps. She also produced 27 volumes of art stamp collections, called International Art Post, and put out newsletters, Banana Rag and Artistamp News. But her days of stamping are over.
“I just don’t want to commit to more years of production work,” Banana told Coast Reporter amid piles of boxes of her work soon to go to fine-arts archives at the University of British Columbia. “I’m 81 now and I just thought, do I really want to be producing more? It’s stressful, it’s exacting work. The costs if I booboo, well, there goes whatever payment I get for doing it right.”
Born Anne Lee Long in Victoria, she changed her name decades ago. “I did it legally. It was to try to get rid of a married name that I didn’t want to have,” she said. So she went bananas with the artistic opportunity to create an identity. When asked why she chose that fruit, she replied with a smile, “Why not? Bananas have appeal.”
Banana declared herself Victoria’s Town Fool in 1971, even though a schoolteacher at the time. “I went around to different elementary schools in my rainbow costume and did art classes with the kids. And because I was such a weirdo, dressed in this getup, they weren’t rebellious, throwing spitballs or whatever, the way they’d be if I’d gone in dressed as a normal person.”
It was a form of performance art, which Banana would do much of for many years, touring with troupes in Europe as recently as 2011. The Banana Olympics, produced in San Francisco in 1975 and Surrey in 1980, featured Monty Pythonesque competitions like overhand banana-throwing and the belly-to-belly banana race. The message has always been one of encouraging art while deconstructing artistic pretentions.
“It wasn’t just about going out there saying ‘look at me, look at me,’” Banana said. “It was gently making fun of the competitive aspect of most sporting events, and most art events: ‘Who’s the best?’ That’s not important. It’s participation that’s really important. You don’t have to create a masterpiece. It’s about expressing your own creativity.”
Her own artwork through the years has included building her zany, lighthearted brand, offering degrees in Bananology and recording her work in an Encyclopedia Bananica.
Banana’s hometown recognized her life work in a 2015 retrospective, 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana, a three-month exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV). “She has been able to inspire a multitude of people both close to her and in faraway places to find their own creativity,” wrote AGGV curator Michelle Jacques.
Banana said she had no specific plans or concerns about what’s next. “I’ve had fun, probably more than most people,” she said. “You know, it’s important, I think, to have fun.”