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Meet The Artist: Michael Banks

Above: "Untitled" and "Untitled," by Michael Banks. Located in Kentuck's Permanent Collection.

Michael Banks, a contemporary folk artist best known for his brooding, mask-like faces and bright colors, is a Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts. Originally from Guntersville, Alabama, Michael has been attending the Kentuck Festival for many years and his work has been exhibited throughout the United States.

Michael Banks at the 48th Kentuck Festival of the Arts, 2019

Michael grew up in public housing in Guntersville, Alabama with five siblings. He was an artistically-inclined child, painting with anything he could get his hands on — including his mother's lipstick. His mother, Ann, raised not only her own five children, but her sister's children too. With so many kids in the house, there was no money for traditional art supplies; however, Ann was always Michael's biggest fan.

Ann passed in 1992, which led Michael to fall into a deep, five-year depression. He did not paint again until 1997 when he was reminded of the hope and encouragement his mother instilled in him throughout his childhood.

Since 1997, Michael's work has become some of the most recognizable contemporary folk art in the southeast and beyond. In his mid-twenties, he exhibited at Panoply Arts Festival in Huntsville, Alabama and met Georgine Clarke, Kentuck's founder. Georgine invited him to exhibit at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts later that year. At Kentuck, he sold all 95 pieces in his inventory and met Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Bernice Sims, Lonnie Holley, and Mose Tolliver — some of the most prominent names in the folk art world.

The juxtaposition of bold, vivid colors and detailed incised lines characterize Michael Banks's work. Michael often scratches details and symbols into the surface of his work, leaving interpretation to the viewer. The lively colors of Banks's work are often at odds with his distorted faces and figures--wide set eyes, elongated faces, and inhuman positions contribute to the intrigue and energy of his work.

His work has attracted many admirers and has marked an important step in the evolution of American folk art.

Michael has exhibited at many of the nation's top folk and contemporary art festivals and has had exhibitions at many galleries throughout the United States, including Atlanta, GA; Savannah, GA; Denver, CO; and New York, NY.

Michael says he paints because it keeps him alive.

Michael Banks at the 2014 Kentuck Festival of the Arts. Photo by Kathy Fetters


Inspired by recent programming at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, beginning June 5th Kentuck Art Center is dedicating ten days of online content to the Black artists in our Permanent Collection. While Kentuck Art Center cannot address the full complexity of systemic racism on our own, we can gain perspective and a sense of purpose by listening to the voices of artists we are proud to have in our collection.


Kentuck's Permanent Collection holds artworks of significance to Kentuck's history, as well as the American Folk Art movement. The objects collected by Kentuck physically document the narrative of American Folk Art, as well as Kentuck's Festival, Studio, and Exhibiting artists. The objects in Kentuck's Permanent Collection form a history that is the basis for research, exhibition, interpretation, and community engagement.


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