Butler creates paintings that are structured around the motifs of mountains, trees and nature. His methods contain notable convergences with abstract painting, and increasingly abstract elements are evident within the tree paintings that have been a consistent focus of his practice in recent years. The simplified forms of the trees’ branches and trunks appear visually activated by the clarity of the contrasting colors with which Benjamin depicts them. He paints geometric patterns, manipulates color, and his distinctive painterly expressions with vertical lines, diagonals and triangular forms and curves appear to be grasping for the borderline between representation and abstraction.
Butler has remarked that in the beginning, the landscape motifs were a way to make abstract paintings that were accessible to a wide audience. In addition, the original impetus of his grandmother asking him to paint a landscape for her has developed into his current studio practice.
In a 2015 Huffington Post interview with the artist, Butler remarked that mark making is a way of recording and discussing language and history. Further, for him, the framework or motif of the tree functioned like a time machine, in that it enabled him to hold a form of discussion with past abstract artists – in particular Mondrian – which was reflected within his works. He had an early interest in combining dissimilar art historical reference points together, working within a postmodern context, but with a subject matter of major modernist importance: the landscape. Indeed, the rhythmically reiterating lines that occupy the entirety of his margin-less canvases have a strong relationship to the history of Abstract Expressionism. The sense of rhythm between horizontals and verticals recalls that of Mondrian, and the relationship between planes of simplified color and line, that of Frank Stella.
With regard to the conflicting ideas of abstraction and figuration, Butler has always considered this conflict to be a natural and unavoidable effect of putting paint on canvas. The dichotomy between the romantic and the kitsch, or between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, also holds great significance within his practice. The art critic Roberta Smith wrote in a 2014 New York Times review of Benjamin Butler, “The results – which also owe something to Milton Avery and Alex Katz – express reverence toward nature and revisit the important role of landscape painting in the pursuit of early abstraction but also feel bracingly contemporary […]”
These works seemingly trace the boundary lines between representation and abstraction, while containing such a multiplicity of elements as to possess both a poetic tenderness and, at the same time, there is an air of contemporary ‘cool’ to them. As though appealing to individual memories, they confer upon viewers a time for calm contemplation.
On this Exhibition
This exhibition is the artist’s fifth solo show with Tomio Koyama Gallery, and marks two years since his previous solo show with the gallery. The show will include new oil paintings from 2015 and 2016. For this exhibition, Butler gives the statement as follows:
“While there is a sense of repetition in my work, nothing is literally repeated. I like the idea of a kind of circular repetition, or forward movement that occasionally picks up remnants from the past and then moves forward again. The title, Trees Alone, alludes to the image of a single tree (or one painting) becoming part of a group within an exhibition. They are alone, as paintings and images, within the parameters of the canvas, and also once each painting leaves the exhibition. The plural becomes singular and the singular becomes plural. As a painter, I spend a large amount of time alone in my studio. For that reason this show feels more autobiographical than others, and it closely echoes the thoughts and processes that went into making these new paintings. In 2004, my first solo exhibition in Vienna was titled ‘Tree Alone’. ‘Trees Alone’ in Tokyo is meant as a sequel to that Vienna show, with 12 years, 16 solo exhibitions, and 9000 kilometers separating the two.”
Having moved from New York where he spent 13 years, to Vienna 4 years ago; having had a son and becoming a father, Butler has gone from working within a totally new environment, to producing paintings which are a uniquely personal expression, made at a time of ideal balance between his private and studio lives. We are delighted to invite you to view these highly – anticipated new paintings.