I recently received an email from artist and curator Brendan Carroll with the following four questions, and since I spent a fair amount of time yesterday writing the answers, I thought the exchange might make an interesting post, especially the part about working from observation. Carroll is curating a show called “Out of Step” that opens on October 8 at NJCU’s Lemmermann Gallery in Jersey City. Featuring a range of approaches to geometric abstraction, the exhibition will include work by Mark Dagley, Enrico Gomez, Tom McGlynn, Gary Petersen, Kati Vilim, Sara Wolfe, and me. More details to come.
Image at top: Work in progress at Bascom Lodge.
Brendan Carroll: Do your paintings start with preliminary drawings?
Sharon Butler: I draw to record ideas for paintings. The drawings are rough, more like sketches, made in composition notebooks, often of structures I’ve seen in the car on my way to school or walking around the city on my way to the studio. When something catches my eye, I try to be observant, but, later, working from memory, I can never remember the entire structure. The next day, I look again, and learn a little bit more. When I start a painting, I begin with a preliminary drawing in pencil on the canvas. I intentionally refrain from covering up the extra lines or mistakes—they give the painting more depth.
BC: What is paint to you, and how do you describe your use of it?
SB: Like all artists, I use paint to flesh out the drawn structures and add color. More particularly, I use paint to focus on selected aspects of the drawing. When I first started started painting, I was infatuated with thick, crusty paint, but over time, I’ve became more interested in a minimal-gestural approach, using pigment dispersions and silica binder to prepare custom mixes of thin, highly-pigmented paint that have a matte, gouache-like finish. My colors tend to look worn out – muddy pastels – and I use them sparingly.
BC: What role does observation play in your painting, or does it play a role? Does it even matter?
SB: As visual artists go, I’m not acutely observant, and I sometimes play games to trick myself into being more visually aware and less absorbed in thought. At the same time, I am intrigued by the gap between what we see and what we remember seeing. Things can go terribly wrong between looking, or observing, and then, later, drawing what we’ve seen. Although I admire artists dedicated to perceptual drawing, that practice doesn’t jibe with my approach or interests. I find more meaning in mistakes, carelessness, and the subversion of art tricks like linear perspective than in careful observation.
BC: Given the new mediums of today (e.g., Internet art, generative software, sound, performance, etc.), why paint? And why continue to explore abstraction?
SB: I have worked on various installation and digital projects in the past, but I like the more meditative, less rational, process of painting, which allows ideas to unfold organically and intuitively over time. For me, abstraction isn’t a strategy – it’s simply the visual language I find the most compelling and meaningful.