Drawing on deep relationships by: Regina Haggo

originally published in the Hamilton Spectator Thursday, January 31, 2013

Drawing on deep relationships

What is beauty? A meaningless word? British painter Patrick Heron thought so. But he also believed beauty is “perhaps a word that evokes all kinds of intensely felt and experienced relationships.”

And that’s what best describes the art of Jack Butler.

Drawing is the heart of his art. “I draw,” he says.

Some of his drawings, giclé digital prints and installations are on show in StoryBones at Hamilton Artists Inc.

The exhibition records Butler’s relationships with Inuit culture and his experiences with money and sex. Each of these interests is represented in the three components of the exhibition.

First, the large installation at the back of the gallery, Qamanituaq Diary, is inspired by Butler’s relationships with Inuit culture. In 1969 he travelled to the Nunavut settlement of Baker Lake, or Qamanituaq, to start a printmaking co-operative with Inuit artists. There he discovered the story bones game, in which a participant tells a story based on the arrangement of bones from the head of a fish.

Butler’s installation includes big vinyl panels hanging from the ceiling. Each is covered with fragmentary drawings and giclé digital prints cut into shapes that recall bones.

Moreover, these bony shapes boast bone tones: white, black and grey. Some of them depict human heads and parts of heads and bodies, others reveal bits of writing. Butler invites the viewer to create a narrative from these fragments.

The second component, My earliest memory of money is selling flower seeds door to door, also asks for viewer participation. In this audio installation, you touch the drawing laid out on a drafting table and you hear people talking in English and Inuktitut about money. The sounds create a kind of rhythmical noise that complements the nervous red calligraphic scribbles of the drawing.

The colour red and written words also appear in A Red Fog of Sex, the third part of the exhibition. It explores intimate gay relationships through a series of large drawings and one very sensual wall hanging, Boys in Love, resplendent with embroidery on black, white and magenta fabric.

Butler’s exhibition is accompanied by two smaller ones.

Happy Accident comprises the dynamic abstracts of Teal Booth, an artist and singer-songwriter who works with acrylic and India ink.

Booth’s approach is spontaneous and intuitive: take a blot of ink and see what happens. Some of her compositions remain delightfully nonrepresentational, others attempt to morph into more figural forms.

Booth portrays Satyr, a randy part-animal being from classical mythology, as a vivacious form dancing its way across the canvas. Random black and white scribbly lines reinforce the energy.

Imaginary creatures might do well to seek out Steve Newberry’s nests in Nesting, an engaging show dominated by a huge nestlike form constructed from colourful pool noodles.

Booth’s and Newberry’s exhibitions close on Feb. 3. Butler’s continues until Feb. 17.

Regina Haggo, art historian, public speaker, curator and former professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dundas Valley School of Art.

dhaggo@thespec.com

1969-2012, Qamanituaq Diary by Jack Butler

Satyr by  Teal Booth