In this new exhibition at CHARLIE SMITH LONDON Tom Butler continues to evolve his ongoing series of appropriated Victorian cabinet cards. Painted with beautifully delicate gouache, each subject is laboriously transformed, being engaged by an inexplicable shape, pattern or species. The inherent character of the card, with its clear traces of the passing of time; and the appearance and positioning of the sitter, prompt Butler to instinctively decide how and where to alter the original object.
This series introduces new motifs as well as new treatment of existing motifs, including geometric clouds, bisecting barriers, floral transformations and spiritual exhalations. Butler then pushes them in extremis, where the sitter might be entirely overtaken or conversely their features remain very much apparent. We are treated to a number of works where there is clear suggestion of interaction between the subject and a mysterious plane, force or aura, rendering the subject pre-occupied rather than overwhelmed.
“Earlier in the year a curator asked me if there was a limit to the number of my cabinet cards works” The artist stated, “I said no, because it felt like I was growing a population of characters that continues to surprise and fascinate me. However, this was a new idea because I realised they were becoming a population or citizenship and more than just an ongoing series of characters. To let the population grow I started imagining an island (of sorts) where they could exist and I could continue to create them. It wasn’t until later in the year that I read H.G. Wells’ ‘Island of Dr Moreau’, where a shipwrecked man is rescued and brought to the shores of a mysterious island populated with beast-men who are created by Dr Moreau in scientific experiments. Wells’ island itself is unnamed, as is its strange population, only described in the book as: ‘the inhabitants’.”
Butler has also introduced renditions of pairs, groups and families alongside his iconic single subjects. Using similar modes of modification, Butler toys with group dynamics, accentuating isolation or integration. At times sinister and always nostalgic, the notion of time past is even more evident here. The removal of identities implies death, and varied motifs within single pieces suggests the different direction that lives of individuals take, who were once a group with shared interests, experiences and motivations, leaving one to reflect on separation, loss, diversion and unfulfilled intentions.
Tom Butler – CHARLIE SMITH LONDON – February 20th to March 28th 2015