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Terence Dick
Jack Butler at The Red Head Gallery
September 06, 2017

How do you criticize visual art when the artist wasn’t even looking when he made it? Is it fair to assess it based on what you see? Does it even make sense to treat it as your standard drawing, painting, whatever? And if he wasn’t concerned with looking, why should you be? Then again, are you going to ignore all those scrawled-on pieces of paper stuck to the wall? For his current exhibition at The Red Head Gallery, Jack Butler covered his eyes (the exhibition titled is Blindfold, of course) and drew. He had some idea of what he was doing, but he’d wait up to a week before he looked at the results. He knew he was doing it as a way to deal with grief. He finished 150 drawings and posted them in chronological order around the gallery. He even included texts to explain his process, but the result is still disorienting. It’s like being dropped into the middle of a storm.

Jack Butler, The Eyes, Blindfold Drawing, 03/25/17, 2017, paint marking pen

There is a flock of eyelashes, a field of lightning, a cloud of static, a hairy chest, scurrying insects, and folded hands. There are some that look just like scribbles – no different than the pointless shredding of a small child who hasn’t even figured out the basics of representation. Intent is obliterated in the violent deployment of the pen. Then there are doodles. These are comparable to abstract expressions and instrumental music. They have patterns that repeat and follow the same motion to occupy the space of the page in some way that implies order, but they aren’t exactly drawings. To get to that stage, there has to be a subject that helps the markings cohere in a meaningful way. Butler makes it difficult to find examples of this in the midst of his circumscribed labour. He’s put an obstacle – the titular blindfold – in the way of his artistic intention by breaking the circuit of eye-to-hand-to-eye. And yet drawings emerge.

Jack Butler, Blindfold, 2017, installation view

They aren’t necessarily of anything. And even when they are, the intention is less literal than metaphoric. It’s perhaps better to consider them records of action rather than images of things. They are evidence of an artist at work and, given that he is an artist, it’s not surprising that he would work at grieving through drawing. The occasion for his grief is not revealed and, in the absence of it being mentioned, one might not actually identify this sense of loss in the assembled work. But since we know it’s in there, it’s worth considering how grief renders the world both meaningless and meaningful. The former feeling comes when others die, particularly if they are young, and we wonder why. The latter is the harder outcome, because it requires us to make something positive out of a negative. Butler has done this by having his loss fuel creation. That is to be felt much more than it is to be seen.

The Red Head Gallery:
Jack Butler: Blindfold continues until September 23.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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