This also explains why, despite Banks’s affinity for abstract art, one of the artists who is represented the most in his collection is David Hockney. The two first met around 1960, at the home of collector Beatrice Gersh, when Banks stepped outside to tend to a nosebleed from a recent sinus operation and met the young British artist, who had gone out to smoke. The two quickly struck up a friendship. “His studio was about 10 blocks from my office,” Banks says. “Sometimes at lunchtime I’d go and we’d play chess.” Hockney has since painted Banks twice, once in 1980 and again in 2000. The portraits—as well as numerous other Hockney works—hang in Banks’s low-slung, taupe-colored midcentury home in upscale View Park.
IN THE YEARS AFTER THE WATTS RIOTS, protests calling attention to the contributions of black artists forced public institutions—funded, of course, by taxpayer dollars—to take notice. In 1970 a group of workers from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, seeking legal counsel for a manifestation against what they saw as a failure by the museum to engage its black constituency, walked across Wilshire Boulevard into Stan Sanders’s law office. It became his unexpected entrée into a new art-world vortex.
“At that time, LACMA had no African-Americans on its board of directors and no African-Americans among its docents,” Sanders explains. “The highest-ranking African-Americans in the whole firmament of employees and volunteers at LACMA were the preparators—the guys who actually handled the art.” Sanders signed on to a group that became the Black Arts Council—which advised the museum—along with Banks, advocate Samella Lewis, and Aurelia Brooks, CAAM’s first executive director.
Sanders admits that he didn’t know much about collecting contemporary art at the time, but learned by going on regular gallery and studio visits with Cecil Fergerson, a preparator he met through his involvement with the Black Arts Council. He was drawn into the dynamic and intellectually compelling milieu. The Brockman Gallery, run by Dale and Alonzo Davis, was “a gathering place,” recalls Sanders. Named after their grandmother, it was the city’s first black-owned commercial gallery and existed for 30 years. (By comparison, Ferus was open for nine.) Equally important to the scene was Lewis, who came to Los Angeles in 1964 to study Chinese and tirelessly championed L.A.’s black artists. Lewis opened a series of galleries that culminated with the Museum of African American Art and somehow found the time to run the Black Art Quarterly and publish the two-volume Black Artists on Art, which surveyed the work of nearly 150 contemporary artists—all while teaching full-time at Scripps College in Claremont.
“There was ferment,” Sanders says. “There was this cross-fertilization between young professionals and artists. We were mostly just hanging out together, but even if what we did was roll a joint and talk all night, we mixed the politics with the art.”