Opening September 4th from 6 to 9 pm
After completing his BA sculptor degree at the Celsea College of Art & Design, Tom Butler earned his Master of Fine Arts at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 2007. Currently residing in Portland, USA, he interferes with the boundaries between the real and the surreal using 19th Century Victorian cabinet cards which he transforms into unsettling characters of his imagination.
In the Victorian Era between 1860 and 1890 the traditional portrait photographs, originally named ‘Impérial Carte-de-Visite’ which the American Civil War Photographer Mathew Brady invented became extremely popular. These albumen silver prints on card stock paper of a single person, a couple or an entire family were mailed to foreign families or close friends. Simultaneously a whole range of small stands and customized photograph frames were designed to put these small - 4¼ by 6½ inches - family portraits on their cabinets. As a consequence the popular term ‘cabinet card’ originated. Most of the cabinet cards mention a name at the bottom. It’s not the name of the sitter however, but the name of the photographer or photographer’s studio, creating instant publicity for their work, and thus remaining the person portrayed anonymous.
”I am fascinated by the process of Conspicuous Invisibility: the simultaneous human desire
to both hide and perform. In a visual way, I collect memories, thresholds and hiding places
and attempt to re-manufacture them. My work expresses my natural inclination towards
introversion and the opposition of displaying artwork essentially about hiding.”
Tom Butler started performing appropriations by using landscape postcards, withdrawn foreign banknotes and for the last four years he started collecting these antique Victorian cabinet cards. By putting gouache masks on the surface of these anonymous portraits, he creates facial distortions of hair formations, decorative patterns and gaping toothing orifices which begins revealing an imagined inner personality of the sitter. These psychological portraits are becoming grotesque, sinister scenarios with often a macabre sense of humor. The work of Tom Butler reminiscent in this sense the surreal collages of Max Ernst by providing a mirror to the masks of our subconscient obscurations, our hidden self. They offer Tom Butler a way to express his personal thoughts, fears and anxieties in an immediate and direct way. In his early work ‘Invisibility Machine’ the artist expresses his personal tendency toward introversion by taking a series of photos of himself hiding behind a mirror in various location in London, giving the viewer the illusion of his invisibility.
Combining the two techniques of the readymade ancient photographs with his personal miniaturist painting technique, Tom Butler has found just the way to interact with the 21st Century world of art. Remembering the work of Marcel Duchamp ’L.H.O.O.Q.’ of 1919 where the artist draws a pencil mustache and goat beard on a postcard reproduction of Da Vinci’s ’Mona Lisa’, we find the same quest of providing the portrait an inner soul, a personality. Whereas the dada movement searched for the rejection of prevailing standards in traditional art, the young Tom Butler has found his personal answer: keeping a focused inertia in an era of speed and superabondance of digital images.