Artist Kyle Butler’s explanations of his work can be needlessly off-putting. In his artist’s statement about his new work on show at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery, he says the “visual language” of the work “begins from a base assumption that there are parallels between abstraction and amending forms of communication like posture, affect, tone of voice, gesture. These forms provide our words with subjectivity and convolution, much like how the way in which an image is formed can sway its export.”
The work itself—abstract, in layers of paint and imagery and tones of gray to black for the most part that seem to address ideas of entropy, disintegration, decomposition—is what you might call difficult art. But not that difficult. Not even the piece called Garble. (Garble is one of the more straightforward pieces.)
The work is created via a complex process of initial or underlay painting, then pattern-making with masking tape or the equivalent on the underlay, then overpainting with spray paint, removal of the masking tape, and further paint embellishment as the artist deems appropriate.
Butler goes on to say in his artist’s statement, “There is an array of topics that have persisted in my work over the years: complications in socialization and communication, the effects of dereliction on psyche, half-baked existentialism, physical structure paralleling cognitive structure…” To be honest, I don’t see (or much less understand) any of that. Except perhaps physical structure (whether or not paralleling cognitive structure).
Butler has previously been obsessed with lath. Lath and clapboard. Horizontal physical components of the wood frame buildings we see all around us. As valid structural elements—holding up or helping hold up walls—and in terms of their disintegration—breaking down the structures—often in sudden and violent ways.
The current work is about structure still, but more about surface. With tactile values ranging from glossy to gritty. And imagery with a dominant horizontal aspect, recalling the lath subject matter, but lath abstracted now, and the disintegration idea, but not sudden or violent disintegration now, but gradual, entropic, time now in the equation. Things fall apart.
And frequently very beautiful imagery. Reminiscent of old lath, but also old maps. Or ancient manuscripts, found in fragments, and partly decomposed, and painstakingly—as far as possible, given lacunae—placed and pasted back together again. Dead Sea Scrolls. Oxyrhynchus papyri.
The basic aesthetic is musical, sonata form. Two contrasting themes or subjects occur and interplay. One dark and heavy and basically horizontally oriented. Stratigraphic matter. Subject to the law of gravity. The other light and airy, and oriented this way and that, ad lib. Negative light lines cutting across and cutting up the first theme dark matter. With no regard to gravity or for that matter much any other rule or law. The whim of the artist, perhaps.
Different works display different kinds and degrees of interplay.The best of them more straightforward abstract. The more manuscript and map recollective—but not depictive—works. The superb Diseased, yet postured—the titles for the most part don’t help at all, hardly describe, mostly just bewilder—and excellent Curdled arcades and Diction despite nonsense. (Better they should have all been titled untitled, maybe with numbers.)
Less compelling are several works edging toward depiction. Of licks of furnace flame in a blend medley of reddish and other hues, in a work called Don’t talk like that. Or icebergs in the ocean, it looks like, in a work called Cold arbitrator. Or one called Shriek, an homage version, it seems, of the famous Scream by Edvard Munch. (The titles, it seems, are more descriptive in the more representational works.)
On the other hand, the piece called Garble looks a lot like literal lath and plaster. It’s one of the more compelling pieces.
The Kyle Butler exhibit continues through June 24.
Nina Freudenheim Gallery
140 North St / ninafreudenheimgallery.com