One of the things I love about the found-art object / collage art of Nick Bantock is the way he interweaves literature and poetry into his work. He is a poet’s artist!
As I wandered through his work, looking here and reading there, I noticed that he used this stanza from nursery rhyme as part of one elaborate wall of found-artwork:
Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye —
four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing!
Oh, wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
Of course, I loved the reference to birds, and the idea that they lived and sang when they otherwise might have died in an oven. So I went home to find the rest of the rhyme, and it goes like this:
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
the queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey,
the maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes —
when down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
This second verse isn’t nearly as magical or wondrous as the first. It made me wonder what the poem could really be about! So I read around online and discovered an explanation that sees this as a commentary on King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Whether it is or isn’t, Nick Bantock makes striking use of the rhyme in his art.
But he doesn’t stop with children’s verses. He also illustrates Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, evokes Dante’s journey though purgatory, and imagines a dream of the Artful Dodger from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. He does astonishing things with color and juxtaposition. I love his work.
In some ways, it takes me into my own soul. In others, it takes me into the wonder and the wildness of nature. Then, finally or once again or from the beginning, it draws me into the ever-expanding universe of darkness and light.
The Elephant Luggage
At the exhibit, there’s a short film that ends by quoting one of Sabine’s letters to Griffin. (Griffin and Sabine are Nick Bantock’s two most famous characters, two people who may or may not be real, and who carry on a correspondence that reveals their deep love for each other even though it seems impossible that they will ever meet.) I think it is a fitting note from the artist to his admirers … and, as I end this post, from me to you:
“Bring yourself home to me, and I will immerse you
in every bit of tenderness I possess.”