Inside the Artist’s Studio: Jonathan Butt in Bushwick

03/16/2011 4:00 AM |

Jonathan Butt's two-person exhibition with Mernet Larsen opens on March 19 (reception 7-10pm) at Regina Rex, 1717 Troutman Street, #329, and continues through April 17.

The L: How do you begin a work, what triggers your process?
Jonathan Butt: I think it's a combination of having this very unformed idea of a mass and a scale that will be the sculpture, and I know that I will be approaching that. And then taking a process that will make an object or a form or a beginning that's too complex to quickly understand. So with a lot of these I'm beginning by pouring plaster and building very loose armatures that will get me to a place where there will be a lot of information that I haven't considered before that step had been taken. And then from there it's a lot of editing and adding and putting away for a couple of months. So I think that the way I begin is to try to get something in front of me without dictating the specifics of what's happening.

Your work is often very funny; how do you see humor functioning in your practice?
I've used humor to disarm the viewer, but it's also on occasion been a problem, where humor becomes a very easy way to read something. And if somebody's uncomfortable or nervous that becomes a default reaction. I've had experiences where it foils other issues that I would like to be more salient. I think in more the more figurative and narrative work that I've done it's been more of a problem because it reads as cartoon and all these associations people have. But with the newer work, I think the humor is still there, but it's a little bit more difficult to exit the work through the humor.

Have you found that pushing your work further into abstraction has been the key to avoiding this problem?
I think that's a good solution; to make the work a little bit less nameable, where there's more struggle to recognize what one is looking at. And especially with humor where there's this perception that the artist sets up the situation and then the viewer gets the setup. I think abstraction slows that process a lot.

Has there been a specific process that has helped you strip your work of more narrative elements, into abstraction?
It's been a back-and-forth, it hasn't been this one-directional reduction of motif. My interest in figuration and more nameable object-driven work is that I did want there to be an abstraction, but I wanted the component of that assemblage to be more complex.I didn't want them to be reducible to geometries and design fundamentals. So I wanted to use characters from pop culture and these devices that came with a lot of baggage and try to have them function in the same way. And it's difficult to have both, to bring all that history in, and then ask the viewer to look past it while keeping it there at the same time. I think what processes are available dictate a lot of how I go about doing that, whether it's available material, studio space, time, all these logistic parameters are an undeniable influence. One thing I'm trying to get better at is accommodating that set of limitations and embracing that set of limitations and embracing that as why the work is the way it is. As opposed to coming to a new project with an idea that demands a certain material or a type of fabrication and then just struggling to the detriment of the work to make it happen that way.