Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mid America Print Council's 2012 Outstanding Printmaker: James D. Butler

Congratulations are in order! I am privileged to write this article on behalf of my mentor, Illinois painter/printmaker James D. Butler, who is being honored with this year's 
Outstanding Printmaker award from the 
Mid America Print Council (MAPC)
at their biennial conference, November 1-3, 2012. On  Thursday, November 1st, Butler will lecture about his work at the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall, held at Southeast Missouri State University, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. This is also an opportunity to see a collection of his works which are a featured event at the MAPC conference. Anyone who has ever studied under, taught with or collaborated with James Butler knows this has been a long time in coming, and it is certainly well-deserved.

To provide you with a little biographical information, James D. Butler was born in 1945 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. He received his BS degree from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and his MFA degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He lives in Bloomington-Normal Illinois.(Yes, there's a town named Normal, and No, we don't like to talk about it).

Butler came to Illinois to head the printmaking program at Illinois State University, Normal, IL.  The program has  become an excellent training ground for printmakers, teachers and artists in general. Butler has taught with several esteemed printmaking colleagues; Harold Boyd, Raymond E. George, Richard Finch, Veda Rives and Sarah Smelser. He along with Richard Fich, Director of Normal Editions Workshop, have brought in a steady stream of visiting artists to make prints and meet with students. (It was one of the best experiences of that graduate program to work with professional artists.) 

Butler's teaching philosophy has always been to help the student find and nurture his/her strengths,  helping them to realize the aesthetic issues/technicalities of their discipline to keep them current in their field.The success of their program is realized with hundreds of fellow inked up printmakers working, teaching and running their own studios and printshops throughout the United States and Canada.
My first experience meeting James Butler was as a Visiting Artist at Miami University. He showed us his impressive group of prints (which came from an abstracted series like the 2nd image in this article) and as would have it printmakers, being the tech devotees we are,  he discussed with us at length his work ethic and technical innovations. It was a deciding factor inmy decision to attend ISU for graduate school, and I have been honored from the association. As a long time experimental artist, Butler has exhaustively explored the medium making his own litho crayons, and researched an infinite source of paper, paint and pastel in his other works.
Author Kristan H. McKinsey writes of Butler's landscape work as "...He uses landscape as a metaphor for the contemporary collective imagination of the nation, drawing ...attention to the state of our relationship with the environment. He has long explored the changing effects of light, weather, and the seasons on the landscape. Particularly interesting to him is the order Man imposes on the land, visible in the geometric patterns of farmland and urban settings."

The super-realistic double still-life below is one of Butler's best images and comes from his series of prints working from a select group of still life objects; inspired in part by the work of realist artist William Bailey, and his colleague Wayne Kimball. But his infinite attention to detail, the intimacy created when working on a stone with a subject and wanting to expand that experience to a large scale lead him to bigger challenges, so Butler transitioned to landscape in the late 1980s. He used as his subject his native Nebraska, the Mississippi River valley and the region surrounding central Illinois. 

Butler's artistic evolution develops a sort of commentary on the vitality and livelihood found in the fields and territory along the banks of the Mississippi River. Comparatively, his work is in keeping with some of the 19thc.'s French and English landscape artists; wherein observance is only but one facet of the artist's eye. He more than favorably compares with other Midwest landscape artists James Winn and Michael Dubina, whose grasp of the natural light and space found in the Midwest amply feeds the frenzy of grassy-plains-starved patrons in metropolitan areas like New York City.
Butler's meticulous engagement with interior still-life and the Midwest landscape has made him a recognized figure in American Art.  For over forty years his works have been reflections of the solitude and serenity of still-life, and the pastoral side of landscape imagery; both a fast-vanishing vignette with this country's past, as well as a statement on the majesty of the panoramic vista.  

My fellow inked up printmakers, here's to Big James D! 
Congratulations, and may he always find a stone waiting for an image to drawn upon it.

"For me, looking at art is a perceptual event..... I struggle constantly with what I see and how to represent it. Therefore, my working process involves considerable invention and re-invention...." --James D. Butler

Honors and Awards:
Outstanding Printmaker, Mid America Print Council Conference, Southeast Missouri State University, MO,  2012
Distinguished Professor of Art, Emeritus,School of Art,Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
G.S.A. Commission, Oklahoma City Federal Courthouse, Art in Architecture Program, 1993 
Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowships, 1989 & 1985 
National Endowment for the Arts Artist Fellowships, 1985-86 & 1979-80
Illinois Arts Council Project Completion Grant, 1982-83 
Wood Trust Graduate Fellowship, 1969-70 
F.W. Vreeland Award, 1969 

Selected Exhibitions: 
American Academy Institute of Arts and Letters,  NY, Babcock Galleries,  NY, Frumkin and Struve Gallery,  IL, Gerald Peters Gallery, NM, Sherry French Gallery,  NY, State of Illinois Gallery,  IL, The University of Iowa Museum of Art,  IA 

Selected Public Collections: 
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH 
Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences, Peoria, IL 
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY 
The New York Public Library, New York, NY 
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA 
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NE
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Selected Publications: 
Magazines-  American Artist, , Art and Antiques, Art Forum, New Art Examiner
1996 -  Kinsey, Joni. "Plain Pictures: Images of the American Prairie". Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press . 
1994 - Harris, Neil. "Visions of America: Landscape as Metaphor in the Late Twentieth Century". New York: Harry N. Abrams . 
1989 - Arthur, John, "Spirit of Place - Contemporary Landscape Painting and The American Tradition". New York: Little, Brown and Company. 
1985 - Smith, Edward. "American Art Now". New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., . 

James D. Butler's  2012 MAPC Exhibition is in exhibit at the:
River Campus Art Gallery at Southeast Missouri State University
October 15- November 16
Artist’s Talk: Thursday, Nov. 1, 6-7 pm

The Gallery will showcase an accomplished collection of James D. Butler's work including paintings, drawings and a variety of printmaking techniques in tandem with the 2012 MAPC conference.  Butler has been an active artist and he works thematically, focusing on subjects that are part of his environment, from interior still life to landscape, quite often finding beauty in the ordinary.

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