Adam Simon reviews Sharon Butler’s “Next Moves” in the October 2022 issue of The Brooklyn Rail

Adam Simon reviews Sharon Butler’s NEXT MOVES on The Brooklyn Rail

ON VIEW

JENNIFER BAAHNG GALLERY

NEXT MOVES

September 15 – November 15, 2022

New York

Many of Sharon Butler’s Instagram followers are aware that most of the paintings she’s been making over the past six years began as daily cell phone sketches starting in 2016, using a program called PicsArt, that she posted daily. That her subtle explorations of painting vernacular began as digital sketches is just one of the disjunctions in her current exhibition, NEXT MOVES, at Jennifer Baahng Gallery.

Butler’s approach is an open embrace of rule breaking and the mismatched. The large four-panel piece, Four Days (2019–21) that takes up most of the first wall on the right when you enter the gallery, manages to appear simultaneously as a multi-panel piece and as four independent works. It’s possible to just appreciate the rich colors and nuanced paint handling, the monumentality of simple forms against atmospheric grounds. But it’s hard not to wonder if Butler isn’t also testing how strong the mental, perceptual glue is that binds paintings whenever two are contiguous. Is the glue strong enough that we assume the four panels were painted at the same time and were intended as one piece, or do we wonder instead if any or all the four could have been swapped out for different works?

It’s a delicate high-wire act that has us falling neither to one side nor the other. This balancing act is played out differently throughout the exhibition, a constant shifting between appreciating the work visually and thinking about the decisions that were made. For example, also in the first room, Bedfrence (2022) consists of two joined panels, the smaller of the two looking very much like an afterthought, as if Butler wanted the two orange vertical lines at the bottom to be longer than the canvas would allow, and so stuck on a smaller canvas to accommodate. Why not? And then, she shifted them to misalign those orange lines. It is a simple but powerfully effective move.

Two works that anchor the show, Quasi-Believer and Addenda (both 2022), remind me of the surrealist drawing game “exquisite corpse.” Butler is aware of the human mind’s ability to create coherence and she uses that to her advantage. It’s interesting to parse out how the individual panels connect and how they don’t.

Several of the larger works employ a background grid of small squares. Knowing the history of this series, the most obvious connection would be to the pixelation that might occur when the PicsArt drawings were scaled up to create the paintings. But there’s a dilapidated aspect to these backgrounds that just as easily conjures mosaic on subway walls. Positioning isolated geometric forms against these grounds feel associative, a dreamscape that references nothing specific.

Not to be missed is the grouping of smaller works, drawings, and ephemera in the back room. Here, Butler’s humor and idiosyncrasy are on full display. One collage piece is made up of newspaper headlines. It takes a moment to realize that they are referencing not Sharon, the artist herself, but the former prime minister of Israel.

NEXT MOVES doesn’t have any of the kind of abstraction that seems to be having a resurgence, the high-energy Ab-Ex moment held in suspension. Butler’s restlessness and penchant for disequilibrium also doesn’t lend itself to the kind of contemplation that tends to be associated with geometric abstraction. Her work can seem more theatrical than pictorial, her forms enacting some indecipherable narrative against a pixelated stage. You don’t get Matisse’s armchair (“I dream of … an art of balance, of purity and serenity …  something like a good armchair…”). What you get instead is a seat at the table in the next room, where there is a lively conversation taking place of forms that sometimes agree but often don’t, full of innuendo and wit and bad table manners.

Contributor, Adam Simon

Adam Simon is a painter living in Brooklyn. 

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January 20 – March 11, 2023

Jennifer Baahng Gallery is pleased to present PITCHES & SCRIPTS, a group exhibition of works on paper. On view are ink and graphite drawings, collages, inkjet prints and sewed surfaces produced from the 1980’s through 2020. In pooling together six artists, the exhibition pitches a fermentation of ideas, technologies, and political stances that connote rupture and disintegration, while scripting growth, movement and new life. PITCHES & SCRIPTS runs from January 20 through March 11, 2023, with its opening reception on Friday, January 20, 6 – 8 PM.

The spectral presence of history suffuses the work of Janet Taylor Pickett and Zhang Hongtu. Blackness is a “declarative statement” for Janet Taylor Pickett (b. 1948), whose works, as ongoing visual poems,  probe personal and collective memory. Dresses Akimbo, on view, elaborates upon the symbolism of that gesture: a stance of power, bewilderment, and love. A forerunner of Chinese Political Pop Art whose work engages a multilayered discourse,  Zhang Hongtu (b. 1943) asserts themes of dislocation, national identity, propaganda, and politics in the Long Live Mao series, which is equal parts whimsical and profound.

Idiomerica by Sharon Butler (b. 1959) was catalyzed by the artist’s move from New York City to the suburbs. The works investigate the visual grammar of capitalist suburban Americana through video animations, text projects, digital drawings, and the resulting tendencies of reductive art. Conversely, moving from the Midwest to New York City, Jeff Gabel (b. 1968) developed Short Fiction Sketches in scribbly and smudge tone drawings. The works externalize the imagination  of a solitary artist inducted into a sea of uncanny urban experiences.

The Terminal Century by R.C. Baker (b. 1960) seethes with existential angst, as painted and collaged elements tremor with disruption and discordance, while also pointing to the beauty nestled in such moments of ostensive entropy. Similarly responding to a post-War world order, Bjorn Meyer-Ebrecht (b. 1972), makes ink drawings at a monumental scale, creating a pictorial architecture in ink that displays luminous materiality. In their rich, textured surfaces, the works included push the pictorial plane from drawing into painting. 

PITCHES & SCRIPTS assembles the memories of the artists at a formative historical moment, and inquires how art shapes history by responding to cultural shifts or by instigating them itself. As we are flung—‘pitched’—into the future, the exhibition looks to this collection of work for a loose, dynamic script for how to narrativize ourselves in the present.  PITCHES & SCRIPTS renders a ‘soft landing’ for our launch into the new year.

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NEXT MOVES

Sharon Butler


SHARON BUTLER

Next Moves

September 15 – November 15, 2022

Opening and Artist’s Reception: Thursday, September 15th, 6-8PM

JENNIFER BAAHNG GALLERY is pleased to present NEXT MOVES, the gallery’s inaugural solo exhibition of Sharon Butler’s work, and to announce its representation of the artist. The exhibition showcases a group of recent multi-panel paintings and selected mixed-media drawings. As conferred, these works articulate the pulse and the trajectory of Butler’s work, transposing graphic differences and traversing dimensions with elegance and wit. NEXT MOVES runs from September 15 through October 22, with an artist’s reception at the gallery on Thursday, September 15th, from 6–8PM. 

In 2016, Sharon Butler began making digital drawings on a phone app called PicsArt. They were meant to be seen on a smartphone, and she posted one each morning on Instagram as a way of marking daily life. Over the course of four years, she made and posted more than 1200 of them. It was a “growing thinking” and a “time in an alley waiting it out.” Eventually, the impulse to paint – born of the irresoluteness that courses through all painters  took hold. In 2020, to facilitate the transformation of the tiny digital drawings into full-sized paintings, she began drawing geometric grids on canvases. The digital drawings encapsulated in small squares on the mobile screen, infinitely scalable and potentially endless, were transfigured into permanent building blocks.

In Butler’s work, the grid functions metaphorically as a pulsating chord; a portal through which she gets from point A to point B. As such, it encapsulates activity, gathering meaning and power over time. So deployed, the grid builds on Butler’s interest in wabi-sabi and the provisional approach that she has called, in The Brooklyn Rail and elsewhere, “casualism.” Like Piet Mondrian’s valedictory Broadway Boogie Woogie, her paintings apprehend the syncopation and movement of New York City, exploring seriality with conceptual rigor, opting for a serendipitous, ironic approach.

The multi-panel paintings in the exhibition are monumental versions of smaller solo works. They embrace the history of painting and abstraction by way of idiosyncratic conjunctions and addenda. They resound with color, texture, and light, while also establishing compositional formality, tactile physicality, and emotional resonance. These liberal re-imaginings of images that were once originally pixelated retain an expressively vibrational quality. At the same time, an exuberant materiality anchors convergent edges, shapes, and patterns that afford the work visual stability.

In artcritical, critic Laurie Fendrich described Butler’s paintings as “beautiful and grittily compelling.” Fendrich added that “the future of abstraction will be owned by those who accept a post-compositional approach to their paintings. Right now, Sharon Butler has the best of both worlds.” In NEXT MOVES, Sharon Butler proposes restlessness within the strictures of painting, courting risk and glory, and we are in her church.

Sharon Butler’s solo exhibitions have been reviewed in numerous publications, including New York Magazine, Hyperallergic, artcritical, The New Criterion, The James Kalm Report, and Time Out New York. She has been awarded grants from Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation, the Pollock Krasner Foundation, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and Eastern Connecticut State University. She has held residencies at Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, Pocket Utopia, and Counterproof Press. She has served as a visiting professor, artist, and/or critic at Brown University, Cornell University, the Hoffberger School of Painting (MICA), Penn State, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the School of Visual Arts, the Parsons School of Design at the New School, and the Vermont Studio Center. She is the founder of the art blogazine, Two Coats of Paint. She currently teaches in the MFA programs at the New York Academy of Art and the University of Connecticut. 

Sharon Butler lives and works in New York.

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Categories: exhibitions

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SHARON BUTLER

Sharon Butler

SHARON BUTLER

Born 1959, Connecticut, USA

Lives and works in New York

EDUCATION

MFA, Art, University of Connecticut, 1994

BFA, Painting, Massachusetts College of Art, 1987

BA, Art History, Tufts University, MA, 1981

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

“Next Moves,” solo, Jennifer Baahng Gallery, NY, 2022”

“Morning in America,” Theodore:Art, Brooklyn, NY,  2021

“New Paintings,” Theodore:Art, Brooklyn, NY, 2018

“Good Morning Drawings,” SEASON, Seattle, WA, 2017

“Sharon Butler,” Theodore:Art, Brooklyn, NY, 2016

“New Social Situations,” Beacon, NY., 2015

“Dense Surveillance,” SUNY Westchester, NY, 2013

“Precisionist Casual,” Pocket Utopia, NY, 2013

“Gone Wrong,” Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT, 2012

“Sharon Butler: New Paintings,” John Davis Gallery, Hudson, NY, 2009

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

“Spaces of Memory & Imagination,” Silber Gallery, Goucher College, MD, 2023

“In the Studio,” New York Academy of Art, New York, NY, 2023

“Pitches and Scripts,” Jennifer Baahng Gallery, New York, NY, 2023

“Garden of Delight,” Jennifer Baahng Gallery, New York, NY, 2022

“Guided by Voices,” LABspace, Hillsdale, NY, 2022

“TANGO,” Jennifer Baahng Gallery, New York, NY, 2022

AWARDS / FELLOWSHIPS / RESIDENCIES

Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY: Resident, 2018.

Creative Capital / Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant / Follow-up Grant: Two Coats of Paint, 2016.

Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY: Patricia Highsmith-Plangman Resident, 2015.

Creative Capital / Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant / Blog category, 2013-14.

Counterproof Press, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT: Artist in Residence, 2014.

Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism: Artist Fellowship, 2008.

Blue Mountain Center Artists and Writers Colony: Fellowship, 1997.

University of Connecticut: Graduate Fellowship, 1990-91.

Vermont Studio Center: Work Study Grant, 1988.

Pollock-Krasner Foundation: Grant Recipient, 1989-90.

SELECTED REVIEWS / INTERVIEWS / ANTHOLOGIES 

Eraser 4, Interviews with Sharon Butler, Matt Kleberg, Jered Sprecher, Jason Stopa, Vadis Turner, Thornton Willis. Edited by Brian Edmunds. Birmingham, AL, Curating Contemporay, 2022

Brainard Carey, “Sharon Butler,” Praxis Interviews on Yale Radio, podcast, January 27, 2022

Laurie Fendrich, “Accidental on Purpose: Sharon Butler at Theodore:Art,” artcritical,web, February 26, 2021

James Panero, “Gallery Chronicle,” The New Criterion, March 2021

Loren Monk, “Sharon Butler at Theodore:Art,”  James Kalm Rough Cuts, video review, January 26, 2021

Leslie Wayne, “Light is Beauty: Sharon Butler talks art, life and blogging,” artcritical, Oct. 1, 2018

Paul D’Agostino, “Instagram Cats: Sharon Butler’s new paintings based on iPad drawings are telling you, quite frankly, that surfaces matter,” Hyperallergic, Sept. 22, 2018

Patrick Neal, “Philosophical Paintings that Bare Their Process,” Hyperallergic, February 5, 2016

Benjamin Riley, “The Critic’s Notebook,” The New Criterion, February 2, 2016

Howard Halle, “Critic’s Picks: Sharon Butler,” Time Out New York, January 25, 2016

VISITING ARTIST / CRITIC / LECTURER

Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Parsons at the New School, New York, NY

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Brown University, Providence, RI

University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Penn State University, State College, PA

Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, VT

University of Wisconsin at Madison, Madison, WI

Minneapolis School of Art and Design, Minneapolis, MN

Maine College of Art, Portland, ME

School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Hunter College MFA Program, New York, NY

School of Visual Arts MFA Program, New York, NY

Hoffberger School of Painting, Baltimore, MD

Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY

Cornish College of The Arts, Seattle, WA

Related:

Pitches & Scripts

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Group Exhibition
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Sept 15 - Nov 15, 2022
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Categories: artists

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