MOA in the News
[This is a reprint of an article that appeared June 27, 2010 in The Denver Post by Colleen Smith]
Creator of the popular Griffin and Sabine saga to exhibit body of work
Special to The Denver Post
Who says lavishly designed books are for children only? Certainly not Nick Bantock, the internationally revered artist-author who created the “Griffin and Sabine” trilogy and launched an entire genre.
But he’s not just focusing on books these days. The Museum of Outdoor Arts, in Englewood, will open “Nick Bantock: A Retrospective (Griffin, Sabine and Beyond)” Sept. 18 in their indoor galleries. The exhibition will be Bantock’s first-ever retrospective, his first show in the United States, and his first exhibit in a generation.
“I haven’t done a proper show since I left England 25 years ago,” said Bantock, who took the publishing world by storm in the early 1990s with his innovative series that hybridized fine art, fiction
and low-tech, yet interactive book design. His Griffin and Sabine saga sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, with 12 international editions, and lingered 100 weeks on The New York Times best- seller list.The phenomenal success of his series landed Bantock a plethora of opportunities ranging from a position on the board that judges Canadian postage stamps, to his commission illustrating Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” recently published by Penguin.
“After doing the books, I went for 20 years without selling anything — no need and no intent. Now, looking back at that work, I’m remembering things I wanted to do but didn’t have time,” Bantock said.
80 new works included
For the exhibition, he’s creating 80 new paintings or drawings — many in large format — to augment 70 pieces of original “Griffin and Sabine” art.
“The show is being called a retrospective, so it pushes me into looking at my body of work,” said Bantock, who’s published 20 titles including pop-up books, a novel a memoir.
For his retrospective, Bantock will transform the museum’s indoor galleries into various rooms: “The Drawing Room,” for example, and “The Mail Room.” Bantock said the exhibit
will have a sense of story, yet without words: “You’ll come into the show and then be catapulted into a world without written narrative. That excites me — encouraging people to start using (their) intuitive visual brain, getting some practice at visual narrative.”A fine artist by training, Bantock’s trilogy lured readers into a voyeuristic view of a romantic, three-dimensional correspondence between Griffin and Sabine.
Bantock’s maiden voyage into writing met swiftly with success in the early ’90s. Released in September 1991, the original print run of “Griffin and Sabine” was 10,000 copies; and he said that by Christmas a million copies of the book had sold.
“With no advertising whatsoever,” Bantock said. “It
was a complete freak of nature. One minute I was completely unknown, barely able to feed my family, living on pennies. The next minute Katie Couric was interviewing me on the breakfast show.”I was totally unprepared. I had never read in public, never given an interview. I was doing it all and trying to produce the next book and raise three young kids and had another child on the way.”
His literary triumphs shocked and challenged him: “I dug deep and found an archetype within that felt best capable.”
And which archetype was that?
“The one that didn’t run: the joke-telling warrior-trickster,” Bantock said.
With dark owlish eyebrows and a graying goatee, Bantock resembles a sorcerer, of sorts. Think Harry Potter at age 60, after Lasik surgery and a lot of soccer matches.
Bantock created about 300 book covers before delving into his own book designs. To read the missives that advance the “Griffin and Sabine” plot, Bantock required readers to remove letters from envelopes glued onto the book’s pages. The scintillating taboo of reading somebody else’s mail is only one of many layers to Bantock’s books, which combine image with word, dream with reality, and the right side with left of the brain.
Bantock works in his studio each day. “I do what I want to do. I see where my enthusiasm is. Over the years, my techniques expanded. That’s how the writing came out,” he said.
“Growing up in England, people told you why you couldn’t do things. Suddenly, I had a publisher banging on my door and was given the creative green light to simply make.”
“The huge success of the books gave me a good deal of confidence,” Bantock said. “But it was a burden on one level. The weirdest thing is when people tell me they named kids after Griffin or Sabine. Then I feel responsible.”
Bantock’s surreal books did not meet with mainstream acclaim in literary publications, but the books still enjoy a cult following.
“I’ve had hundreds of thousands of letters, not so much saying ‘I loved your books,’ but more ‘It inspired me to start writing or painting again,” Bantock said. “I had found an arena to get my art out there in a form that wasn’t intimidating. I had always been concerned about reaching people. The books were not meant to give answers but to provoke questions, to encourage awakening in myself and in others. I always loved it when people argued about my books because they were actually thinking.”
The complexities of Bantock’s books reflect his artistic process.
“I’ve painted since I was 15, but didn’t start writing until 40,” he said. “There’s a schism between painting and writing skills. I had to learn fast not to daunt myself trying to mimic Dickens or Faulkner.”
Also trained as a therapist, Bantock used Gestalt therapy to find his voice.
“I talk to myself; and I find it very handy as long as you know you’re doing it,” he said. “In my internal dialogue, two internal archetypes came together. Writing was a matter of trusting — not bringing an editor in too soon. I let those characters speak with a true voice and respond to one another.”
He wrote each character with a different pen.
And several years ago, he put down his pen to take up his paintbrush. “I’m a painter first, and I stopped writing three years ago because I wanted my painting to be an undiluted form,” Bantock said. “I don’t miss writing at all.”
Bantock cited “The Fencing Master” from Arturo Perez Reverte’s novel as his favorite fictional hero.
“He’s wonderfully crusty, but so proud of his tradition of fencing. Even though it’s outmoded, he still believes in the purity of it. There’s an unwillingness to give up and believe in the current notion of progress. He holds to what he believes to be a constant truth.”
Bantock might have been describing himself.
“This show is a gift to me, too. It’s not one-way traffic,” he said. “I have my work cut out for me to complete everything, but I’ve been given the ability to make things, the life to do it, and the rewards. You can’t just stop and say, ‘I don’t feel like doing it.’ I’m delighted. I hope this show knocks people’s socks off.”
Colleen Smith’s first novel, ” The Glass Halo,” will be published this summer. Visit FridayJonesPublishing.com.
NICK BANTOCK: A RETROSPECTIVE (GRIFFIN, SABINE AND BEYOND)
will include 70 pieces of original art from the Griffin and Sabine series. Of about 250 artworks, Bantock created 80 paintings or drawings — many in large format — within the last four years. At Museum of Outdoor Art (indoor galleries). Opens Sept. 18.