Guitar Man

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    Black folk art

  • Biography

    Johnny Banks (1912-1988)

    In my opinion one of the greatest Texas folk artists of all time.
    The following information was compiled and submitted by Stephanie Reeves:
    John Willard Banks, San Antonio, Texas, African American Folk Artist John
    Willard Banks, black self-taught artist, the son of Charlie and Cora
    Lee (McIntyre) Banks, was born on November 7, 1912, near Seguin, Texas. 
    At the age of five his parents took him to San Antonio, where he
    attended Holy Redeemer School until the age of nine, when his parents
    were divorced and John returned to his grandparents' farm near Seguin. 
    From childhood Banks's favorite pastime was drawing pictures on his Big
    Chief tablet.  He later recalled, "As a kid I used to lie flat on my
    stomach, drawing and drawing. . . . My mother had to kick me off the
    floor to sweep."
    While helping out on his grandparents' farm,
    Banks completed the tenth grade before striking out on his own.  His
    favorite activities during his youth were singing in a gospel quartet
    and playing baseball. In his adult years he worked in oilfields and
    cotton fields, drove a truck, and tended a San Antonio service station. 
    During World War II he joined the army; he held the rank of sergeant
    and was stationed in the Philippines.  After the war he returned to San
    Antonio, where he worked as a custodian at Kelly Air Force Base, at Fort
    Sam Houston, and at a local television station.  Banks married Edna Mae
    Mitchell in 1928, and they had five children.  The marriage ended in
    divorce around 1960.  In 1963 he married Earlie Smith.
    art career began in 1978 while he was recuperating from an illness for
    which he had been hospitalized.  Banks's wife admired her husband's
    drawings and secretly took several of them to a San Antonio laundromat. 
    There she hung the drawings on the wall, offering them for sale at the
    price of fourteen dollars.  They were purchased and taken to a gallery
    for framing.  Quite by chance, a San Antonio physician and collector of
    works of art by black artists, saw one of the
    drawings in the gallery.  He telephoned Banks and arranged for a meeting
    to see his other work. The physician and his wife, became friends
    with John and Earlie Banks and began to advise them on Banks's art
    Banks's first solo exhibition was held at Caroline Lee
    Gallery in San Antonio in 1984, when Banks was seventy-two years old. 
    Subsequently, he had a dual exhibition with fellow Texas artist George
    White at Objects Gallery in San Antonio; was shown in the Southwest
    Ethnic Arts Society's inaugural exhibition of black artists in San
    Antonio, where he won a prize; was included in two traveling
    exhibitions, Handmade and Heartfelt, organized by Laguna Gloria Art
    Museum and Texas Folklife Resources in 1987, and Rambling on My Mind:
    Black Folk Art of the Southwest, organized by the Museum of
    African-American Life and Culture in Dallas in 1987.  Also in 1987 he
    was included in a dual exhibition with fellow San Antonio artist John
    Coleman at the O'Connor Gallery in the McNamara House Museum, Victoria,
    and in 1989 he was one of six artists included in the traveling
    exhibition Black History/Black Vision: The Visionary Image in Texas,
    organized by the University of Texas Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery. 
    Also in 1989, Banks was included in the exhibition Innate Creativity:
    Five Black Texas Folk Artists, sponsored by the Museum of
    African-American Life and Culture and held at the Dallas Public Library.
    developed a distinct style, outlining figures in pencil or ballpoint
    pen and shading them in with colored pencil, crayon, and felt-tipped
    marker.  Sometimes his art was influenced by his early, rural memories,
    including scenes of baptisms, church meetings, hog killings, funerals,
    and Juneteenth celebrations.  These works serve as excellent documents
    of black life in early twentieth-century Texas.  At other times, Banks's
    work was the result of an inner vision that led him to such revelations
    as his Second Coming of Christ, in which he drew his view of the
    activities man might be found engaging in should Christ return today. 
    Whether his subjects were religious or rural, they took place in lush
    landscapes, often with tree-lined rivers flowing through the
    composition.  He did a series of African scenes drawn from his
    imagination, in which he depicted idyllic villages where communal
    activities took place.  Often they included references to the bounty of
    nature and the virtue of working together toward a common goal.  In
    other pictures Banks told more somber stories, of slave auctions and
    inner-city ghetto scenes.  Through the facial expressions and gestures
    of the figures, Banks revealed their psychological states and
    personalities.  When Banks died in San Antonio on April 14, 1988, he
    left behind several hundred drawings.
    The book "FOLK ART IN TEXAS" has an extensive article (with several color and black and white plates) written about Johnny Banks.

    Francis E. Abernethy, Folk Art in Texas, Publications of the Texas Folklore Society 45 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985).
    Lynne Adele, Black History/Black Vision: The Visionary Image in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989). San Antonio Light, April 29, 1984.
    Lynne Adele
    Handbook of Texas Online