Montana Banksy on secrecy, inspiration, the Livingston, Montana art community, and why the ephemeral rock art will continue.
Don’t you love finding something special and creative? Something that makes an already gorgeous place that much more interesting? Me, too. I’ve been really excited by the work of a local artist called “Montana Banksy” who has been delighting Livingston with rock art.
In February, the boys, a bunch of friends, and I biked to a fishing access along the Yellowstone River in search of rock art created by a local, guerrilla artist. I wrote about it here.
Then in March, we found another rock art installation downstream near the Yellowstone River thanks to a photo posted by a friend. When I shared the photo of the panda on Instagram, the artist commented and we started chatting. And Montana Banksy agreed to an email interview with me.
(You can keep up with Montana Banky’s work on Instagram)
MB’s work could be considered guerrilla art or land art. Or both. Like Banksy’s work, this art is created anonymously. And like the work of Andrew Goldsworthy, this land art is ephemeral. As the Yellowstone River rises this spring, most of it will disappear underwater. Anders, Finn, and I paid a second visit to the Carter’s Bridge site this week, and the river is already quite a bit closer to the artworks than it was in February.
I’ll stop talking about my take on it now, and let MB speak.
An Interview with Montana Banksy
TravelingMel: What inspired you to create the rock art we’ve been finding around town?
Montana Banksy: I am an artist, geologist, Montanan, and caffeine addict. Mix those things together, and out comes an 8-foot, river rock, rainbow trout!
TM: Why the name Montana Banksy?
MB: A fellow who runs an online, Montana gift shop called Montana Treasures wanted to put my river rock trout on some of his merchandise, and somehow managed to track me down as the artist. I gave him permission to use my art, but asked him to take my name, and links, off of his site because I am a guerilla artist and it was in the spirit of my work that I remain anonymous. He not only graciously acquiesced, but in place of my name, he called me ‘our own Montana Banksy’. I had just been watching Banksy’s genius documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” that morning, and found the coincidence so amazing that a name was born!
TM: You started with local critters (trout, bison, horse), but the second installation was a panda, why the switch?
MB: When I decided on the spot for the panda installation, the rocks there were almost entirely black or white. I knew I needed to make something in those colors, and the panda is a special symbol for someone I love, so I chose it. That, and the fact that Livingston has an Asian sister city all played into the panda decision. Since I gather my materials on site, the colors of the surrounding rocks definitely impacts what I choose to make.
TM: What is it like to be out along the river early in the morning?
MB: Aside from being with my family, the Yellowstone River is the place in the world where I am the most content. Put me there early in the morning, under a gorgeous sunrise, and I literally feel like the luckiest person on earth. Even on cold, overcast mornings I still feel that way! The peace, and beauty, of Paradise Valley, and our Yellowstone River, is unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen – even the Alps! I feel profoundly connected to the Yellowstone too. Its water seems to run through my veins, and therefore, I have even asked my family to make sure to throw my body into the river after I am dead and gone. But, don’t worry! I asked to be cremated first! ;). Plus, I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. So, unlike my sculptures that will go under the river this spring, the Yellowstone doesn’t get me just yet! She’ll have to wait. A long time. After all… I have so much more river art for her in the meantime!
TM: What do you hope people will get out of seeing your work?
MB: Joy. And the sense that they found something that is theirs. Their secret. Their art. Their discovery. Most times when people stumble on my art, they are alone and could do anything they want to it. Take photos, sit on it (the mandalas are especially good for laying-down selfies ;), touch it, or even wreck it if they chose to do so. Yet, I have been leaving these outdoor, guerilla art pieces around for years and have never had one vandalized. In fact, the opposite is true. In the sites where I do an installation, instead of destruction, the people who discover my art are often inclined to leave little tokens on them, like pretty pebbles, drift wood, bones, or artfully arranged leaves. Or, even better, they make, and leave, their own art. I find this behavior incredibly touching and it inspires me to want to create more art for people to find. I get joy from their joy. It’s all beautifully symbiotic.
TM: What artists do you love and/or find inspiring?
MB: Joseph Turner (and thereby Thomas Moran), DaVinci, Denny Dent, Banksy, Miyazaki… also local artists Edd Enders, Amber Jean, Aaron Schuerr, Derek DeYoung, my daughter… I love street art, graffiti on trains, tattoo art, animation, land art, minimalism, contemporary art and impressionists. I could keep going! There are just so many! The world is an artistic candy store for me, and I am pretty certain that Willy Wonka must have hailed from Livingston, Montana! We have it all here. There is so much creative talent in this little town, it almost gives you a cavity. Just living here is a constant source of inspiration for me.
TM: Why do you keep your identity a secret?
MB: I could say that it is for deep and provocative artistic reasons, or that I am really a ninja and, thus, I must keep my true identity a secret. But, frankly, it is because I am not at all comfortable with people outside of a very small circle of family and friends. And I am very bad at selling myself. An artist’s death knell. Crowds, attention, and eye contact have always been extremely hard for me, and these things make it very difficult to put yourself out there, to say the least. Luckily, I have a job that allows me to be alone a lot, and a very supportive, and understanding family. So my life is wonderful and quiet, with lots of room for creativity. Just how I like it! But, when the newspaper published photos of my work on the front page, I was confronted with the question of whether I should step forward as the artist or not. I decided not to. Naturally… considering my discomfort with people. But, the Internet allowed me to read the reactions people were having to my art from a distance. I was so moved and amazed at the responses, that I decided that I would try to make my art more accessible for more people to enjoy, despite my personal shortcomings. But how to do that without having to come forward? Guerilla art! With a rocky mountain twist! That, and an Instagram account…
TM: Can we expect to find more of your work in the future?
MB: Oh my goodness, yes. I can’t help myself. This is all so much fun!