by Paul D'Agostino
In : Out ::
In, inward, into, within, endogenic, ingressive, inside: Many are the modes and forms of inner-tending, variably interiorizing terms and motilities that one might associate with Tom Butter’s artworks. His paintings and sculptures alike are wont to turn, gyrate and churn, at times toward real or implied centers—the paintings, via gestural strokes, directional linearities and compositional flow; the sculptures, via a range of generally less-than-presumable yet ever-plausible, sometimes aberrant or amusingly jarred kinetics that seem now barely centrifugal, now subtly centripetal. With all their flux and functional switchings, with all their ins and outs, Butter’s works could perhaps quite nearly, not unlike certain prepositional analogies, engorge one another, then devour themselves.
A most peculiar, mechanically genial, bizarrely balanced, disturbingly jocular and behaviorally confounding sculpture is Caput, a piece whose apparently simple, somewhat centripetally erratic motion would be consistent if it weren’t for the friction of certain surfaces, the presence of certain finishes, the interference of a wall, the tensile resistance of a twisting, force-conveying metal belt, and the irregular form and considerable mass of a captivatingly piece-capping albeit floor-bound wooden ball. Caput’s spasmodic motion is its function, its spasmodic function is its motion, and since both are intermittently stunted, thwarted and blunted like the day is long, the piece’s repetitive yet not fully predictable comportment makes it not merely uniquely Sisyphean, but also an exquisite commentary on being and becoming, on doing and making, on trying and conceiving, on coming and going, on failing and flailing, on flunking and clunking—not to mention on the useful futility, or futile usefulness, of tedium. Caput is the anachronistic Caput Mundi of a busted world, perhaps, or perhaps it’s so captive to its inherent natures that it eludes or precludes its own usefulness, purpose or success. It is also, in a way—as a spiritedly animated object, or as an ersatz pet—quite adorably pathetic, simpatico, endearing.
There is something affirmatively friendly about Caput, in other words, an observation of indirect relevance that makes broader formal sense, nonetheless, when it’s considered in an expanded context that would include, also, a painting called Procedure, a companion work of sorts whose linear arcs and compositional dependencies between spatially disparate, energetically bundled forms display just enough visual analogousness to make the pieces appear readily kindred. Procedure, however, thanks in part to the placid qualities of its subtle pinks, greys and variably striated compositional horizontalities, reads like a realm of resolve, repose, relief or release, or perhaps even, at some remove, salvation—metaphysical, merely material or elsewise. Between one wall-knocking of its head, as it were, and another, Caput itself might dream, and dizzily so, of retiring to Procedure’s sphere of fluidity, quiescence, calm.
But then Caput’s mechanical condemnation kicks comically back into gear. And there it goes all over again—spinning itself, clubbing itself, lugging itself up some implied hill of numbingly eternal cumbersomeness. It gives in to itself, knocks into its surroundings, struggles inward for something, yet also for naught. If only there were, as it were, a clear way out.
— 502 :
Out : In ::
Out, outward, out of, out from, exogenic, egressive, outside: Many are the forms and modes of exteriorizing, variably outer-tending motilities and terms that one might associate with Tom Butter’s artworks. His sculptures and paintings alike are wont to churn, gyrate and turn, at times away from real or implied centers—the sculptures, via a range of ever-plausible yet generally less-than-presumable, sometimes amusingly jarred or aberrant kinetics that seem now barely centripetal, now subtly centrifugal; the paintings, via compositional flow, directional linearities and gestural strokes. With all their functional switchings and flux, with all their outs and ins, Butter’s works could perhaps quite nearly, not unlike certain prepositional analogies, devour one another, then engorge themselves.
The resting state of the painting Core is, by and large, hardly restful at all. Rather, it is restive, tumultuous, turbid and roiling, a primarily bright-orange convulsion that might be a sort of geological extrusion, or a fulgor or flare dancing about eruptively on some distant astral surface, or a writ-large close-up of a wee little blossom, or perhaps just a heaving, surging, stirring chromatic effulgence. A certain darkness, however, in Core’s lower right register seems to hint at an interior otherness, or an unknowable beyond or subsurface pitch, or a titularly relevant central force that serves to dial the composition’s frenzy down a notch. What’s more, a rather curiously string-like line, also quite dark, darts up and curves down from one side to the other, a loose girding or spatially placeless garland of sorts that makes of so much stridency something ultimately melodious.
In formal harmony with that very line, then, is a meticulously braided circuit of pink twine that truly does gird loosely, in veritably garland-like fashion, the relatively circular upper portion of a sculpture called Working, a piece whose consistent, delicate, somewhat peaceful rotation is just deliberate enough to suggest potential centrifugality, and whose terrifically haunting, perhaps haunted gloves—because handless, because armless, because body-less, because worker-less—locked firm into a torqued, wrenching grip around the structure’s central axis, are at once a hint that something in the ‘works,’ or in the ‘workings’, has gone significantly awry, and a focalizing synecdoche for all the toil, ache and struggle that go into conceiving, creating, ‘working on’ and making things. The ‘work’ at ‘hand’ in Working is repetitive, in a way, yet not redundant; it is visually tangible and spatially present, even if also, in a structural sense, only barely there. The implied welder whose means of manual protection have been abandoned was flung away, perhaps, when Working’s slow spin went rogue-fast for an erred moment, or the ‘worker’ has gone missing for some other unknowable reason—and he remains the machine’s inherent secret, its enigma, its ghost.
Working worked its worker to the bone, worked him all the way away. As a viewer, a somewhat empathically disarmed one at that, you become one with this phantom’s wearied body in his phantom space. As he, too, might have—or still might—you might wish that the machine would invite you in.
— 502 :
These essays were composed as accompaniments to Tom Butter’s solo exhibition, In : Out :: Out : In, at Studio 10 Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The exhibition opens on the evening of 2 January 2016, from 7-9pm, and runs through 31 January. More information here.
Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.
Images featured in this post are courtesy Tom Butter. For more information about him and his work, visit www.tombutter.com.