Compton admitted to Rhode Island School of Design

Toaster Tale, a stop-motion animation by Banks Compton. (WAW | Contributed)

Banks Compton is unshaken that he will not attend his senior year of high school. He is not bothered by the fact that the institutional doors he will darken in September are exactly 1,265 miles away from the halls of Demopolis High School. For Banks, all the reasons not to go pale in comparison to the one big reason to go.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” he said plainly of his choice. “I really just like art. It’s what I want to do. I’m not worried about leaving friends because we have such good relationships that when I come and see them, we’ll all be happy to see each other. And, again, this all would’ve happened a year later. It’s not a huge life-changing event by just leaving one year earlier. I’m very happy with the friends I’ve made so far, but I don’t think it has made a huge impact on my decision just because that’s what I want to do. That’s my vision.”

Compton will forego his senior year of high school and get his GED after having been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design as a junior.

“When I saw on RISD’s website that they accept high school diplomas or GEDs, I’m like, ‘I could get a GED,” Compton exclaimed, still buzzing over the unexpected acceptance letter he received from the school.

“I didn’t think it would happen,” his mother, Lisa Compton, said of her son’s efforts to apply for the entrance into the school. “RISD is very competitive to get into and we knew that because we had done enough Googling about art schools thinking for next year. So, I didn’t think they would take someone so young since they have so many applicants. When he said he wanted to try, I thought it would be good practice for next year when it would be a real application. I never thought it would actually work.”

The application process proved an involved one for Banks as the he put together a pair of time-sensitive projects in addition to a portfolio of his work.

“I have to admit. I was surprised when he got in. We started Googling and seeing that RISD comes up on Top 5 lists of art schools. It was more than just filling out an application, he spent several weekends doing two art projects. He had to present new material as part of his application process along with the portfolio stuff. Everybody applying to RISD was doing the same project. It was something to directly compare students,” Hunter Compton, Banks’s father, said. “Being his parents, we’re extremely proud of him and all, but at the same time, I didn’t think he had a chance of getting in, so it was okay for him to apply.”

Banks was just as surprised as his parents when he learned he’d been admitted to the school.

“All of me was surprised. I didn’t think I was going to get in at all. It’s a very prestigious art school and you have to make two projects. I sewed my very first dress and covered the entire thing with puzzle pieces. I made it out of a curtain from Walmart and drop cloth canvas. Then I made my very first stop motion video, so it was just a lot of firsts. I think that showed the art school that I’m willing to take risks,” Banks said. “Also, with getting your GED, I’m willing to take the risk of leaving and leaving my senior year behind just to do what I love. I think that’s something that’s very valuable in the art world is to be able to take risks and not look back.”

Aside from the fact that Banks actually got accepted by RISD, just as impressive is the manner in which he completed his assigned application projects with such efficiency and elegance.

Puzzle dress, designed by Compton as part of the RISD admissions process. (WAW | Contributed)

“When you see how hard he worked to get in, that application process was not easy. And you weren’t going to make it through those projects. They assign a project on one day and everybody has two weeks to get it done,” Lisa said. “Part of what they’re wanting to see is, can you work under time pressure. Some people don’t make it through. He put in a lot of hours and was absolutely exhausted. Plus, on one of the assignments, I kept saying, ‘I don’t think you’re doing it right.’ So he had to stand up to his mother and defend his art choices. And it turns out, it was probably his best project. He was strong. He was determined. When someone has worked that hard for it and it was a real honor to get in, there was no way we could say ‘no’, so he’s going.”

Banks tested his acumen on the big stage last summer when he attended Parsons, a three-week summer program at Parsons in New York City.

“Banks wanted to see last year, ‘Am I any good?’ He went to Parsons in New York for three weeks,” Hunter noted.

“We told him to find a taxi, find your own way. He did, no trouble. He didn’t want to come home,” Lisa said.

Banks emerged from that program more determined than ever that he would ultimately pursue his dream. Little did anyone know how quickly he would actually catch up with that goal.

“It has kind of hit his mother, but I don’t know that it has fully hit her. We weren’t planning on him leaving for another year, emotionally or otherwise,” Hunter said. “But it’s really cool that he did get in.”

“We’ve all had to come to terms that we won’t see each other a lot. It won’t be like if he were at Alabama or UWA and could come home on weekends. He’s going to have to make it until Christmas, Spring Break, probably not even coming home at Thanksgiving,” Lisa said. “I have a flexible work schedule, so I’ll probably go up a couple of times a year. He’s going to have to get there and really make his world there. I think he can.”

While Banks will look to make his world at RISD beginning in the Fall and see exactly where his art will take him in the years to come, it is the tiny little corner of the world he calls home to which his parents point in explaining how he has gotten to where he is.

“We really did sit there and go, ‘Wow, out of the 4,000 applicants and only 300 got in, how was he picked?’ I think one of the things that probably showed through was how badly he wanted to go. In a way, being in Demopolis was one of his biggest strengths. He said, ‘We really haven’t had formal art programs when I’ve been here. To have said, ‘I taught myself off YouTube.’ To have shown that against all obstacles, he stuck with this and really pursued it. Yet, while you’re saying that Demopolis didn’t have the things that other kids had, they didn’t have AP art programs and AP teachers showing the kids, this school supported him so much,” Lisa said. “When he put on an art show at the hospital, all the faculty came. The superintendent came. The principal came. Whenever they’ve had productions here at the school, they’ve talked about him. They’ve displayed his art. I think, maybe being from a place that didn’t have everything, was the advantage.”

“He’s had a number of opportunities to show his art. He has been encouraged a lot, not just by us,” Hunter added.

While Banks found an affinity for art early, he looks to a middle school class for helping him to find passion and a high school teacher for helping put his talent to work.

“It started with the faculty here at Demopolis. Mrs. (Meggin) Mayben in middle school was very supportive. I liked art because of her. Actually, Mrs. (Connie) Davis for my business class told me that I should start selling my paintings, so she bought my first painting,” Banks said. “After that, I’ve been selling paintings around Demopolis, doing pet portraits, and I made money off of that. That money went to my first car. All of that was all good, but then I went to New York for three weeks, once I was there in that atmosphere with all those other kids who also appreciated art like I did and being able to learn so much there, I really knew that that’s what I wanted to do.”

“Mrs. Mayben did do some art in the middle school and she has been so supportive,” Lisa added. “I think the opportunities and support he got in middle school gave him the confidence to do that, to keep sticking with it and apply when everybody might’ve said, ‘That’ll never work.’”

From his elementary school doodles to the pet portraits that monetized his abilities, art has been a constant in Banks’s story. With his next move, he will look to add definitive and remarkable brushstrokes to a portrait that is far from complete.

“I’ve been doing art basically my entire life, just drawing or painting or something. It was really intensified after my first painting. I was like, ‘I can make money doing this.’ I was able to work out a system and start having extra spending money by using my talents,” Banks said. “I think it’s a great way of telling stories. By looking at other artists, you can see their life progress through their artwork. And I think that I have a story to tell, myself. I would like to share my story coming from a small town.”