“The close up portraiture becomes profoundly macabre in the eerie work of Richard Butler, both legendary rock star and painter. As the founder, lead singer and songwriter of the English post-punk rock band The Psychedelic Furs, Butler studied painting at The Epsom School of Art & Design (now the Surrey Institute for Art and Design). Butler’s portraits are haunting tableaux, blurring any distinction between portraiture and contemporary art as they spin in intoxicated slow motion.
In the small portrait “Ashwednesday,” Butler depicts his daughter — “Some ninety percent of the paintings I make are based upon images of my daughter, usually distorted in one way or another,” he explains. “She has become a cipher for me, an every man/woman.” Butler creates dark portraits with abstract elements covering parts of his subjects’ faces or hovering in midair. With titles like “confessionalsinner,” “devilsbreath,” “whenisaidiloveyouilied,” and “yourheroestoowillbeforgotten,” Butler’s canvases combine the melancholy with a surreal, dream-like state bathed in a kind of eerie silence.
Often, Butler’s subject’s face will be obscured by thick make-up, masks, confessional screens, veils and shrouds, creating a labyrinth of psychological layers which the viewer is invited to transverse, and gain an understanding of the subject as well as the self. Butler combines classic beauty and the surreal, even the grotesque, in haunting works that the artist insists “are just paintings.” Many are relatively small, almost life-sized, putting the viewer face to face with his subjects. Butler has said he thinks of these portraits as self-portraits — that they reflect feelings from his “own psyche.”
WENDY M. BLAZIER