NEW YORK––The weight and color of objects is easily measured, but how and to what degree do those objects illicit a physiological response in ourselves is harder to capture. Kathy Butterly’s latest exhibition Thought Presence at James Cohan Gallery (September 6 – October 20, 2018) champions this objective. Unlike her earlier works, this latest collection of two dozen vessels are less explicitly evocative of the human body, but rather are the embodiment of the visual, physical and psychological weight of color and the mass of line––despite the fact most are only a few inches tall.
This collection is also grounded in a limited color palette of yellows, greens and white, allowing Butterly to explore larger, more abstract works. Defined by her process of multiple firings and glazings, Butterly’s crumpled, slouchy pots are the kinesthetic actualization of back and forth conversations between the medium and artist.
She begins with a cast form, created by pouring wet clay into a plaster mold made from a generic, store-bought vessel, pinching and pulling and folding the clay until she finds something that resonates, Rorschach-like, with her psychological state. She then refines the piece, carving and smoothing its surfaces in a manner she likens to three-dimensional line drawing. The vessel is subsequently fired and glazed—always repeatedly and often upwards of 30 times—allowing her to paint surfaces and build volumes with accumulated layers of glazes and clay. Her work is an exploration of what her materials can do and how she can speak through them. It is also predicated upon risk, for with each firing the chance of loss is always at hand.
Armed with a reputation as talented colorist, Butterly wittingly layers each pot’s crevices and curves with “seams of fleshy pink, pops of vermillion red, and strokes of dusty blue,” all held within the structure of a spare color palette.
These kinesthetic conversations are weaved deeper through 15 of Butterly’s works on paper––multimedia collages of existing catalogue pages layered with swirling, richly-colored nail polish, which is often embedded with beads and cut-outs.
The creation of these pieces is analogous in many ways to her process with clay and represents a closed circuit of artistic reference. Butterly manipulates a readymade form and then builds meaning and density with color and line. She prizes nail polish as a material for its glaze-like properties, allowing her to play with relationships between colors and finishes. The beads in her collages echo the delicate porcelain trim that draws the eye around many of her works in three-dimensions. Unlike the ceramic works, which she develops over months of deliberation and repeated firings, the nail polish collages are executed quickly and completed in only a few days.
As Peter Schjeldahl succinctly writes in The New Yorker, over Butterly’s career, she has drawn from the batty Bay Area vibes of Viola Frey and Robert Arneson, Ken Price’s Southern California aesthetics of Ken Price and George Ohr’s crumpled forms.
But, by now, the artist has transcended all precedents, employing techniques of multiple glazings and firings to produce singular objects that steer between stately abstraction and happy chaos, with formality and sensuality engaged in squabbles in which both qualities win. Butterly seems in full flight from the clichés of her medium. Are some of her complex forms “visceral”? Only if you imagine the autopsy of an angel.
About the artist: Kathy Butterly (b. 1963, Amityville, NY) has exhibited widely in the United States and internationally. Her works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; The Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; and the de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA among others. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants including a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant (2017), a Guggenheim Fellowship Award (2014), a Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Contemporary Artist Award (2012), a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2011), and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant (2009). Butterly received her BFA at Moore College of Art before earning an MFA at University of California, Davis, where she studied with Robert Arneson. She lives and works in New York, NY.
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