Interview: Nick Bantock
Editor Joseph Blair, Interview, September 5th, 2014
"My stories are meant to provoke questioning...rather than provide neat answers."
This interview was conducted over email by NAILED Contributor, Joseph Blair.
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NAILED MAGAZINE: Mr. Bantock, congratulations on the release of your most recent book, The Trickster’s Hat. As the reader has come to expect from you, this work is littered with whimsy both in textual and visual artistry, and you have clearly mastered the marriage of the two. In being so prolific, how do you approach a blank page/canvas?
NICK BANTOCK: For art I’ll start by making any mark. Doesn’t matter where it begins so long as I don’t get snowblindness. If I’m working on a painting that usually means mixing up a thin colour and wiping the surface with a dipped cloth in order to get rid of the white.
I’ve learned to open a day’s writing with stream of consciousness. Again doesn’t matter what comes out as long as I don’t sit and try and get it right before it’s started.
NAILED: Where does your writing and artwork come from? Do you organize and compartmentalize suppressed, queued up creativity, or simply find yourself letting it flow out of you as you go?
BANTOCK: Two answers in contradiction. On the one hand from considered thought and desire to articulate an idea or feeling. And on the other, it has nothing to do with me, I merely allow the duende to pass through me.
One side of my brain is very organized, sharp and mocking, the other is open, relaxed and willing to accept the flow between order and chaos.
Better to Understand what you’ve created, once you’ve done it.
NAILED: How does this idea of “understand[ing] what you’ve created once you’ve done it” translate with your new book, The Trickster’s Hat— being that it works as a creative journey to uncovering an individual’s (the reader’s) creativity? That is to say, you essentially take an experimental creative writing teacher’s role of leading the student, if you will, by the hand to hopefully and surprisingly help them to bring something new in the world. Do you surprise yourself when creating avenues to creativity, or do you actually find them more self-reflective of your own pathways to creativity?
BANTOCK: When I teach workshop I try to respond to each individual, encouraging them within the loose framework of the exercise to burst out of their preconceptions and self-limitating defences. It’s not about ‘doing’ a good exercise, but about establishing how to remove the obstacles that obstruct the creative process. There’s no formula for that, what help I can give to a student comes down to my powers of observation and my ability to translate that into something they can understand at that moment. The book is a very different proposition, because I couldn’t be in the readers room, I had to try to get the reader to start to trust their own Trickster, so although the exorcizes are instructive, they are also meant as catalyst. I’m not saying “follow these steps and you’ll become creative,” I’m saying, “If you take your intuition in one hand and your sense of aesthetic in the other, you can strike a balance and therefore stand a better chance of walking the tightrope of creative evolution.”
NAILED: My experience with this work is that as the reader moves from exercise to exercise and learns to trust the individual’s Trickster more and more. In doing so each exercise assists him or her with delving a little deeper into the dormant creativity deep within the unconscious. Of the forty-nine exercises in the book, do you feel some create this “balance” that leads to creative evolution better than others? Or do you intend this to be followed as more of a journey, such that you can’t drive the Interstate 5 from San Francisco to Los Angeles without passing through Bakersfield?
BANTOCK: My first thought was Slaughterhouse 5, and our innate ability to be on any part of the Interstate at any given time. That aside, in my experience, 7 and 11 are loaded…commit to those two and they can really trigger movement. Yes, the 49 represent my perception of balance (7×7), but that’s more of a personal aesthetic. Hopefully that aesthetic matches others.
As for what defines a journey…even if you time-hop up and down on the interstate you are still visiting the towns—eventually you’ll bump into a burning bush!
In reality, I don’t even think I teach, I give encouragement to free the beast. What does the beast look like? Answer: a large furry marmalade ball, with a hundred fluffy tails wagging every which way.
NAILED:So if I’m not mistaken, the point of the Trickster is to release the beast, yes? So does your personal, delightfully colorful and animated Trickster rely more on sleight of hand or conscious disobedience? And who encourages you to free the beast?
BANTOCK: More like sleight of foot. “Sorry Gov didn’t mean to trip you up, but while you’re down there on the ground, take a look at the colours on that dung beetle.”
Depends who the disobedience is directed against…I think the Trickster would be inclined to say, “Never let rules stop you from doing the right thing.”
Who encourages me?
The beasts themselves, of course.
NAILED: While we’re on the topic of beasts, your fascination with living creatures is evident in your art. With works like “Aversion to Beasts” as well as other elements you are known to include such as the simple and charming little sprite-like meddlers that litter the pages throughout your catalog (though featured in your newest work, can be seen in the margins of works like Griffin and Sabine), your attraction to non-human characters is prominent. What is your relationship with these creatures, and what draws you to them?
BANTOCK: You are right, animals play a big part in my visual lexicon, without them the world feels too bloody egotistical.
As to Sabine’s island Familiars, they have taken on a life of their own. At first I worked with real petroglyphs, but then I found the non-specific little chaps started to invent themselves right there on the page.
I see them as a comedy del arte of pre-history, creatures who alternately assist and poke fun at we human’s capacity for self-grandizing. Hardly surprising that the Trickster would enlist them!
NAILED: I’ve heard that some create art for themselves – that anyone else might find interest in it is purely coincidental – and I’ve also heard that when creating, the artist must have an audience in mind, often with a goal and purpose. Do you subscribe to either? Obviously, when producing a book that is meant to aid the reader in flexing their creative muscles, your focus is on the audience, but how much of this is done for yourself (both in this and your previous works)? Are you in any way trying to make the world a better place through what you do?
BANTOCK: I wish I had a master plan to make the world a better place, but of course I don’t.
My work is always going to be about my journey, how can it not be? However, that doesn’t prohibit the possibility of it giving support and solace to others if I am able to tap into the occasional universal truth.
To my mind, writing or painting with a specific goal or prescribed outcome, is dangerous as it sails too close to the winds of coercement. I want to learn, so I create, and I want to communicate, so I encourage others to think about things from as many different angles as possible. My stories are meant to provoke questioning…rather than provide neat answers. That’s not a cop out, it’s a way of trying to stimulate expansive thinking.
Having an audience is a privilege and I try to share my imagination with whoever is open to listening. If I can also provide the said audience with the encouragement to widen their own peripheral vision, then I believe I’m earning my crust!
NAILED: If you don’t mind sharing, what are you working on now? What can we expect to see from you next?
BANTOCK: I’m working on two books, one of which I’m keeping under full wraps.
However, I can unveil (trumpet, trumpet) ‘The Isle of Sarte’, a new fiction, now in second draft.
How to describe it? If Vonnegut wrote Cannery Row, set on an Island of eccentrics in a parallel universe in the 1980’s after a major economic collapse…plus pictures.
To be published by Bloomsbury in 2015.
NAILED: When was the last time you NAILED it?
BANTOCK: 4.32 pm. 7th of June 1998, but no one was looking, so I’m not sure it counts.
If you want a straight answer, it would probably be during a recent poker game when I worked out that someone was bluffing, based on the awkward positioning of his feet.
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Nick Bantock is known throughout the world for his art, for his writing and particularly for his marriage of the two. His books have topped many best seller lists and have been translated into a multitude of languages. His first Griffin and Sabine trilogy stayed on the NY Times best seller list for over two years. His art hangs in private collections all over North America and Europe and in 2011 he was given a major retrospective exhibition at the MOA in Denver. As a teacher and speaker he is probably best described as…motivational and mischievous.To learn more about Nick Bantock, check out his website, here. To acquire some of his art for your very own, go here. And pick up a copy of his first book in seven years, The Trickster’s Hat, in stores.