As Jersey Artist Jason Butler completes his last minute preparations for his exhibition entitled “Seekers”, in his Jersey based studio/gallery he took time out to chat to me about his paintings and I had a sneak preview of this artist’s amazing work.
Jason is known as a figurative painter but has stepped outside his portraiture work to create a body of conceptual work entitled ‘Seekers’. This work has been five years in the making. There is a mix of vulnerability in his work but also a huge strength in each piece. Ranging from both ends of the spectrum in colours, textures and emotions.
I started by asking Jason about his beginnings.
‘Although I was actually born in Nottingham I grew up in Jersey and wasn’t doing too well at school until my defining moment at the age of thirteen when Mark Blanchard took a leap of faith in me. As a teacher he inspired me and made it all realistic and from then on every moment I spent in the Art room. I was very lucky to have trained under him.
‘I later studied at Bristol University for my Art Foundation Course and Cheltenham Art College for my degree in Fine Art.
‘The first piece of artwork I sold was when I was fifteen and a school mate asked me to paint a tree in front of his house for his Mum’s birthday. I did a watercolour of the tree and sold it to him for £50.’
How do you approach a new piece of work?
‘I never work on one piece there’s usually fifty to sixty on the go at the same time. Out of even twenty that I attempt I may get one finished painting.’
What has been your most challenging brief to date?
‘The commission of the Royal Mace was a tough one. I had six weeks to produce that painting, it really needed six months. I made it hard on myself as I wanted all the figures at the back to be as important as the people in the front. I learnt a lot from doing it.’
Your conceptual art is a far cry from your portrait commissions.
‘My portrait commissions keep me sharp and have allowed me to be here in this space doing this. I couldn’t be making these paintings without having done the hundreds of paintings that I’ve done because technically I wouldn’t be up to it. You learn so much, try out so many different ways of dealing with paint not just technically but emotionally too.
‘The key thing that I’m trying to get is the balance between my interest in figurative painting and my interest in abstract painting.’
We chatted about techniques and I asked what is the most indispensable item in the studio?
‘My computer. I’ve got the latest Mac retina and most of the imagery I use is shaped from concepts online and then I paint from the screen. Without the computer a lot of these paintings wouldn’t have been made as it’s also what I listen to and what effects me emotionally.’ I also listen to educational stuff, podcasts and music, depending on what I’m working on.’
Which work of art do you wish you owned?
‘When I go to London there are two paintings that I have to see before I do anything else. At the National Gallery the portrait of Philip IV of Spain by Diego Velázquez, is such an abstract painting. The other is the portrait of Cornelis van der Geest by Anthony van Dyck. The artist was only twenty one when he painted it and you can feel the skin, bone and gristle, it is an incredible painting.’
Can you tell me about your upcoming show?
‘I wanted to create a proper exhibition when I had the right place to do it. This is a great space for people to stand in the middle of the room and to view the paintings not just as individual pieces but as part of a body of work, Seekers. One idea explored in a number of ways.
‘The journey will continue through to the ‘Blue room’ where thirty to forty small paintings will be on display all equally as important as the large ones.’
Tell me about the idea of ‘Seekers’?
‘My conceptual based work has always been about the same thing, about hero worship, human folly, the idea of leaders and followers. I’m fascinated with what people are prepared to do to believe in things.
‘Any good artist will have a concept, a way to link your work together. An Artist is a conduit, ideas permeated out of me over the last year. I’m “seeking” through the making.’
You are fairly outrageous with your application of paint.
‘I have to work my ideas out on the canvas, it’s important for me to do it that way rather than just do preparatory studies. I use the paintings as my way of working out the intellectual ideas and then try and put the emotion in as I go. So there’s only one painting out of the twelve that was started four years ago and is still the same image, the rest of them have been worked on for three years and then I’ll paint over them and they become a completely different picture. My break through piece was originally the face of a man but I couldn’t have made the final result without going through the process using the texture behind. I’ve built up the layers of paint and I couldn’t replicate the surface from scratch.
‘As I go through the process of sanding them back things appear from underneath that create a focal point. They are what they are because of the process. At the start they never intended to be what they became and the more I work on the painting more things emerge.’
What is your current obsession?
‘Simply, just to paint. That’s what I do and what I want to do. I love this studio and am extremely lucky to have this space. Everyday when I leave I say goodnight to the place!’
‘Seekers’ will be open to the public between the 4th – 28th May in Jason’s Gallery at 10 Commercial Buildings, St Helier, Jersey
Opening hours: 10 – 5.30 Monday to Saturday.
Jason continues to accept Portrait commissions visit his website for further details.
Jason Butler has had his work accepted for various exhibitions in the UK including The BP Award at the National Portrait Gallery, London in 2002, 2004 & 2010. He was shortlisted for the BP Travel Award in 2010 and his painting ‘The Rubbish Bin Men’ was chosen for the official publicity material. He has twice been commissioned by the States of Jersey to make paintings commemorating Royal visits and also painted Colin Powell OBE for Jersey Heritage in 2009.
Alongside his conceptual based work Jason also accepts portrait commissions.