- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

PURCHASE Any artist can paint a cow, but Nathan Banks uses bovines as his canvas.

Mr. Banks, 22, a student at Purchase College, painted single words (from "a" to "existential") on the flanks of about 60 cows near his upstate New York home, then let them wander around to see if they could compose poetry.

Holsteins and Jerseys with names like Elsie and Maggie came up with phrases including "eccentric art," "performance as cow environment" and Mr. Banks' favorite, "organic conceptual art as poetry."

One animal seemed especially inspired. With "away" written on her side, she broke loose from the herd for a while.

The "Cow Project," with videotape and photos of the bovine bards, goes on display at the college Thursday.

"The idea is that the artist sets up the situation and then it carries through on its own," Mr. Banks said in an interview last week.

The entire three-day episode in mid-September was documented by Mr. Banks and a couple of dozen other students.

"It was peculiar," said Gerry Ruestow, who let Mr. Banks use so-called tail paint, a harmless substance that eventually flakes off, on his dairy herd in Sidney Center. "Those art people tend to do things that are a little bit outside the box."

Mr. Banks said the project cost him about $1,000 and he had to overcome a few obstacles. A half-dozen dairy farmers rejected the idea before Mr. Ruestow and his wife, Susan, agreed to let him use their Farm.

"There was a big concern that the cows would be stressed and give less milk," Mr. Banks said. Mr. Ruestow said milk production instead increased slightly, "probably because the cows were a bit more active. The cows were as interested in the observers as the observers were in the cows."

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