Public 2-Year Schools

Essex County College’s Lifetime of Art for Gregg Banks

One of the first times Gregg Banks tried his hand at drawing was when he was five and the subject was a penny. “My father’s reaction was that I created something good and I really have never stopped,” he recalled.

That was 55 years ago and he has never stopped creating art.

Gregg is now a 60-year-old Essex County College student pursuing his Associate degree (A.A.) in Art. He is currently on schedule to graduate in the Spring of 2018. “Essex is the place I knew I should be at and be around the people to help me move on,” said the East Orange resident. “The school has been very supportive and has provided me with the assistance needed to succeed.”

And one of those people happens to be his Art Professor Barbara Pogue. “Gregg Banks is the sort of Art major whom every Art professor wishes to have,” she said.

“He is a mature, responsible man who takes his assignments very seriously. Just his presence in the classroom is enough to impress the less serious students; they see his total focus on the project at hand; they see he is genial and amiable, but never at the expense of doing his work.”

Some of Gregg’s artwork was recently on display at Newark City Hall as part of the Newark Arts’ Open Doors city-wide arts festival.

Gregg, who prefers to work in oils, created a three-foot by three-foot portrait of Angela Davis and Malcolm X together. While he doesn’t believe the two ever met, Gregg said they both have shared their dedication for “human rights.”

Using acrylics, Gregg also created an anti-drug painting highlighting a flower and a woman in a “state of euphoria. The flower represents the innocent side of the poppy” before it is converted into drugs. A spoon is at the bottom as the poppy dissolves into the drug.

Gregg also created unique black and white umbrella paintings for a festival in Newark’s Ironbound section.

He still finds time to teach art at the Irvington Recreation Center for school-aged children in grades three to seven. “So many schools are eliminating art programs, so I want to bring this experience to youngsters whenever I can. Plus, it’s fun for both the children and me.” His generosity shows as every few months, he treats the children to a pizza party.

Gregg also brings his art expertise to senior centers. “Art is great therapy and it helps with hand to eye coordination.”

Gregg’s late wife, Ruth, was a great supporter of his artwork. “We used to create portrait cakes on which I would decorate the top with faces,” he recalled. “People would actually cut around the face to leave it intact when they ate the cake,” he laughed.

Gregg has certainly come a long way since drawing that penny in the basement of his then Plainfield home. His family subsequently moved to Newark where he attended Arts High School after which he began working and raising a family.

One of his main reasons for returning to school was to prove to himself he could do it.

Or, as Professor Pogue said, “He is humble and determined to get his education here at Essex County College. You will never hear him boasting about all his honors, though in my opinion, he certainly deserves to!”