The Bank, Amanda Love's new art space in Newark, hosts David Butler's eye-popping collages
'Gravity,' featuring 20-plus large-scale collages and a dozen sculptures by the Granville artist, opens Friday, Feb. 11, in a former downtown bank in Newark, Ohio
Back in August, when Granville artist Amanda Love first took over the space at 42 N. Third St. in downtown Newark, the place was a mess. The former bank had no running water, no toilet, very little lighting. But Love had a vision for an arts space that could bring “curated, creative community moments” to Newark and the surrounding area.
In the last few months, after a lot of grunt work rehabbing the interior, Love has made headway on that vision, bringing free visual art, poetry and music events to the space she dubbed The Bank. Following a December exhibition featuring Joe Sinsabaugh and Michael Rodgers, Love is curating a new show in the space by fellow Granville artist David Butler (not to be confused with Columbus artist David Butler), “Gravity,” which begins today (Friday, Feb. 11) with an opening reception from 6-9 p.m.
Butler’s large-scale collages, many of which are embellished with gold leaf, are a perfect match for the historic building’s tall ceilings, brass chandeliers and ornate, gold crown molding. The solo exhibition comes to Newark after a six-week stint in Dayton and features 21 collages and a dozen sculptures that incorporate everything from Butler’s love of Renaissance paintings to his fondness for street art and punk-rock flyers. All the work came about during the pandemic, when his commercial work began to dry up, providing an unexpected, extended period of time for Butler to focus on his own art.
“A lot of this came from the anxiety of the things that were happening and having a lot of time to look inward. Before, it was like, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry! Get your work done!’ And then, all of a sudden, you're left with yourself,” Butler said. “So, when COVID hit, I found myself in my head a lot. … [The work] is very introspective. It’s meant for people to think about their relationship with themselves, not necessarily relationships with other people.”
Years ago, Butler, a CCAD grad, used traditional methods of collage, layering materials with adhesive. But when a project for Cirque du Soleil required a high-resolution digital product, Butler began experimenting with collage work on his computer. Now, his found objects come from the internet.
“Like any collage artist, you start with all your raw material. I just store them digitally in files. And then I start to build,” Butler said. “I never want something to look like it came from a computer. I don't want it to look like the technology drove the idea or the technology drove the technique.”
Indeed, large pieces like “Kali” and “Rati” look more like paintings than an assemblage of images that originated on a screen. “Because of the scale of those, they almost feel like they're on velvet or something because of the way the texture is handled,” said Butler, who named the pieces after the Hindu goddesses that inspired them. Kali, depicted with a skull face and the armor of an ancient warrior, stands amid the cosmos holding weaponry and an opaque hourglass holding an unknown quantity of sand — a reference to the doomsday goddess’ control of time. Kali knows when death will come; we do not.
“That's a theme that runs through a lot of my pieces — the giving up of control,” said Butler, who became obsessed with religious storytelling and mythology at a young age. “Mythology has impacted my life in a really positive way. I like to get back to some of those narratives that are kind of lost in the modern world. … Everything I do is based on mannerism, allegory and anthropomorphism.”
Similar themes of life, death and divinity surface in the side-by-side pairing of “Gravitas Fidei” (“Gravity of Belief”) and “When God Whispers,” both of which feature prominent gold leaf embellishments applied after printing. Rather than referencing specific deities, Butler sees the two pieces more as a visual study on “the god within you.” Most of the collages, in fact, are based on “how we look at ourselves and how we deal with ourselves in complex situations with complex emotions,” he said.
Many of Butler’s collages incorporate the female form, representing everything from lust and pleasure (“Rati,” “Cardboard Halo”) to elegance and charm (“Nude with Gun”). Natural beauty takes center stage in “But for My Butterfly,” which gets its name from a lyric of a song by Butler’s band, the Black Owls; in it, a woman directs her gaze at a winged creature nearby — an act Butler found himself engaged in more often during the pandemic.
“I have a rocking chair with a bird feeder right outside one of the windows, and I'll just sit in the rocking chair and focus on the birds,” he said. “It’s the idea of, when everything around you is chaos, just focusing on one thing — calming your mind and meditating.”
The natural world often shows up in surprising ways in Butler’s work. Bugs, in particular, are a common feature. A colorful beetle might adorn a woman’s forehead in a way that's meant to complement rather than detract from her beauty. Elsewhere, in “Of Animals and Men,” a rhino is overshadowed by a large insect. “I like taking big things and making them small and taking small things and making them big,” Butler said. “There's a lot of beauty in things that are really small.”
The “Gravity” sculptures are easy to overlook in a show with so many huge pieces full of eye-grabbing imagery, but they come from a similar place. Butler scours junk shops and his Granville property looking for anything that catches his eye, then assembles them into primitive, fantastical anthropomorphs. In Butler’s hands, these found objects — whether digital or tangible — combine to form something entirely new.