THE MYSTERY BEHIND 'MONTANA BANKSY': Anonymous Livingston artist shares story behind beautiful works of natural guerilla art

By: 
Hunter D'Antuono

notion exists that humanity cannot improve on nature — a sense that the aesthetic splendor the good, green Earth has already created cannot be groomed past what we already see. But one inspired artist, who happens to call Livingston her home, shatters that basic assertion. 

As of late, she is becoming known to the world as the “Montana Banksy” — a play on the title of the renowned British graffiti artist Banksy, whose spray-painted pieces spark a sense of wonder on the otherwise cold, drab and indifferent gray walls of the globe’s cityscapes. 

And just like the famous Englishman, our Banksy remains earnestly anonymous. 

Montana, being the wild place that it is, has inspired the Montana Banksy, or “MB,” as she goes by for short, to blend elements of the earth with human creativity — bringing out the most captivating aspects of both and enrapturing an exponentially growing audience every day, thanks in large part to social media. Something about MB’s work seems to resonate resolutely with anyone who senses even the slightest shred of the harmonious potential between art and nature. 

Her most recent and popular works have included a series of designs crafted from carefully color-sorted river rocks around the Yellowstone River’s frequented Carter’s Bridge fishing access. As of this week, an 8-foot-long rainbow trout still remains intact above the spring runoff on a sandbar on the east bank, alongside a bison and a figure of a galloping horse striding away from a pair of pleasing circular patterns. 

A butterfly, also borne of hued river rocks, is displayed in the sand just downriver from the bridge. In the wooded area adjacent to the Moja Campbell dog park next to Mayor’s Landing, the sprouting spring grass is swallowing a panda bear of MB’s making. As a geologist by training, MB’s affinity for rocks is evident, but her past works have integrated wood, sticks, snow, sand, leaves, bones and animal skulls.

At the suggestion of a family member, she now leaves a “calling card” on her designs — a solitary stone with an ornate, black “M” painted on it within the design. She is also responsible for the small painted stones places in random locations around Livingston bearing the same initial. 

MB, who agreed to be interviewed only via email to retain her anonymity, said she is more than a bit flustered from the spotlight.

“I am a bit freaked out by all the attention,” she typed on April 15. “I have always felt awkward around people, even eye contact is hard for me, which is quite honestly part of the reason I’d like to stay anonymous. People are hard for me ... I am much, much better with animals and nature.”

But even for one who feels challenged getting comfortable with humans face-to-face, she’s inadvertently forged a social connection much deeper, and with a fan-base far bigger, than she could have ever anticipated. 

MB has created nature art since her childhood. She grew up as a “farm kid” in America’s flatlands, moving around the vast expanses of the Midwest several times with her family. Her first land art projects were intricate pieces constructed from hay bales. MB would conjure a design and then enlist the help of her siblings to bring them to reality. 

Before reaching adulthood, her designs would cross many state and international lines. 

“In my teens, I made a giant sea horse, and a sea turtle, out of sand on a beach in Florida, and then spent the rest of the day watching the reactions of people who came across them,” MB wrote. “So, even though I was never formally taught, I was always doing art in some form, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.” 

Further south, the “Land Down Under” was adorned by one of MB’s first, and largest works. Uluru, or Ayers Rock, as it was more commonly known when she climbed it, is Australia’s iconic sandstone monolith.  

The climb took a lot longer than she and her brother anticipated, and the sun was sinking low. Their destination was a logbook listing past climbers that was across the mountain from where they’d ascended. To not lose their way in the dimming light, MB created a series of large arrows out of rocks on the top of the formation to trace the way back to their descension point.

She recalls the pattern she’d created in their wake as “this interesting, repetitive pattern” that was “very large, obvious, artistic and cool.”

“However, because of the scale of the line of arrows and how obvious they seemed,” she continued, “I had an attack of conscience, and so my brother and I wrecked each arrow as we went past it on our way back down the mountain.”

But she and her brother had been gone so long that their worried mother had assembled a team of rangers, who received them when they climbed down.   

“I think it made me realize that art was everywhere, and not just something I drew in my sketch books,” MB wrote. 

“That, and don’t climb mountains at night. It makes people worry,” she typed, ending the sentence with a winky face. 

Her entrancement with Montana began early on, when she would head west to visit her grandparents, who lived in a mobile home on the banks of the Yellowstone. As an adult she’d settle in Livingston, where she’s lived for over a decade.  

“Even living, and traveling, in places like Australia, England, Europe and Russia didn’t dim the fascination I had with this place,” she wrote of Big Sky Country.  

Her desire for anonymity is rivaled only by her modesty. After sharing tales of her world travels, she expressed concerns in follow up emails, worried she might come off as “pretentious.”  

Her admirers have even started creating tribute rock art pieces alongside her work. An rock owl, not of MB’s making, appeared next to her Carter’s Bridge designs. It’s something she said she loves to see. 

One of her most popular works, the large rainbow trout, is 8 feet in length. Banksy said she’s found it takes her about an hour to piece together every foot of a design. She’ll often start sorting and stashing rocks for the weeks at the design site and will work as swiftly as she can during the twilight hours of the day, so she can limit her chances of being spotted.   

But perhaps the greatest beauty in her work stems from its ephemerality. The rocks of the panda will eventually be sucked back into the soil by the vegetation growing up through it, and the designs on the river will inevitably be washed away. 

As for future pieces, MB said she already has the site for her next creation scoped out. It will be in an unspecified spot in a frequented area of the Yellowstone.  

“Dog walkers, and other joggers, should keep their eyes peeled!” MB typed.  “And, of course, my @montanabanksy Instagram account makes it a bit easier to find my installations, too.”

 

Hunter D’Antuono may be reached at photo@livent.net.