Jimmie Banks goes everywhere with his Duke blue backpack.
As an electrician for the Duke Facilities Management Department, he carries a regular set of work tools, but these instruments are also within reach: brushes, watercolor paint, sketchbooks, pencils, colored pencils and pens.
“If I’m having a tough day, I can take out my art supplies and start drawing on my break,” Banks said. “Nothing makes me happier than art.”
Banks has had his work on display in the Mary Lou Williams Center, the Friedl Building and Duke University Hospital. In July, he’ll add the Rubenstein Arts Center to the list. You can see his work from July 11 through Sept. 9 in the Ruby Gallery on the second floor of the Rubenstein Arts Center.
Banks began drawing and painting long before he started working at Duke 22 years ago. He fell in love with the blues and yellows in Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” and the life-like quality of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. Banks loved art so much that he would draw in class during school.
“I could never keep still,” Banks said. “I always had to be drawing or painting something.”
Now, his artwork mostly features portraits of family members, friends and pop-culture figures like Oprah Winfrey, Diana Ross and Muhammad Ali.
His favorite work of art remains his oil painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” which he made in the sixth grade. “The Last Supper” will be one of about 20 pieces and several sketches on display in the Ruby exhibit. Other work includes drawings of actresses Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno in “West Side Story,” Olympic boxer Julius Jackson and actors Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison from “A Different World.”
Bill Fick, lecturing fellow in the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies and assistant director for Visual and Studio Arts at the Rubenstein Arts Center, has wanted to showcase art by Banks since the Ruby opened in 2018.
“Jimmie is a keen observer working in a wide variety of media,” Fick said. “He is a champion of the arts and a wonderful example of a dedicated and passionate artist.”
Banks said he draws about three new works of art each week. He gives his artwork to family members, students and the occasional Duke employee. He drew former Duke President Richard H. Brodhead and gave him the portrait upon his retirement.
“I just get so excited thinking about my own exhibit at Duke,” Banks said. “This place has always been so supportive of me.”
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