Kenneth Banks was born in 1953 in La Mesa California. He is a Kumeyaay Native American Indian and is a member of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel. He is a multimedia artist, working in mediums such as, glass, basketry, ceramics, digital art, painting, drawing, metal arts, etc.
Ken was raised by his mother and grandmother in the community of Ramona, California. He attended the University of California at Berkeley on a Ford Foundation Fellowship. He completed both his Bachelors and Masters degree at UC Berkeley, majoring in Architecture and minoring in Native American Studies.
He took a sabbatical from his graduate work in 1979 to back pack through Austral-Asia. He began his travels in Singapore and then backpacked through Malaysia, Java, Bali, New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand. During his travels through Java he became very ill, lost 65 pounds in 6 days and almost died. He was able to get to a hospital in Jojakarta where he was stabilized. He then traveled back to Jakarta where he was nursed back to health by and American Family who worked at the American School. When he got to Australia, he fell in love with the people and landscape and ended up living there for a year. He seriously considered becoming a resident of Australia but eventually returned to the US because of family commitments. He says “I loved Australia it was such a vibrant country, if I could change anything in my life, I would have stayed there. I still maintain contact with dear friends I made there 30 years ago.” Between his near death experience in Indonesia and his wonderful times in Australia he had a profound epiphany that changed his whole direction in life.
“Before I went on that trip, I was a know it all and I was going to be the greatest architect that ever lived. But my experiences along the way, and a spiritual awakening during my illness in Java, I realized that I knew nothing and that the quality of life is more important than fame and money.”
When he returned to the US, two and a half years later, he completed his Masters degree in Architecture and then went to work for a small architecture firm in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco. He worked there for a 6 months but realized that he had lost his interest and the drive to be an architect. He began a journey of deciding where he wanted to put his energy. After several months he realized that he wanted to combine his life long love of art and help build the American Indian community. He decided that he wanted to start an art gallery that was dedicated to contemporary Native artists and to helping them to sell their work. He approached a friend, Janeen Antoine, and together they began the task of founding American Indian Contemporary Arts (AICA). AICA was established as a not for profit organization, and over his five year reign as Executive Director, curated and exhibited hundreds of Native artists from throughout the United States, published a quarterly newsletter, established a touring exhibition program and published a book on emerging contemporary native artists’.
After he left AICA, he first planned to be an Artists Representative, but quickly discovered that many of the clients he contacted were purchasing his own work. He decided to become a full time artist and has been working as an artist for over 25 years.
He moved back to San Diego in 1996 after the sudden death of his Grandmother, Uncle and Mother, and has lived in San Diego ever since. He worked the Pow Wow circuit very successfully until September 11, 2001 when the US went into a recession and the art market collapsed. After that he focused his attention more on the wholesale business selling to galleries and shops. He only did public shows about once a quarter.
Then in November 2006, while packing up his car for a art show, he collapsed from a massive coronary, his partner of 8 years, Ken Sinclair, saved his life by calling 911 and performing CPR. He was in a comma for three days and after leaving the hospital discovered that his heart was deteriorating from damage created from taking the prescription drug Fen-phen in the 1990‘s. Ken was placed on the heart transplant list and when his heart had deteriorated to a 10% ejection rate (pumping measurement) he was placed on priority and received a new heart shortly thereafter on April 30, 2008. Since then he has had a remarkable recovery and is returning to producing beautiful art.
August 2011 Ken was commissioned by The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation to produce a public artwork honoring the Kumeyaay people. The work was to be placed near the Jacobs Center which is the site of a former Kumeyaay village. The piece is titled “Coyote Tracks” and was unveiled November 5, 2011.