The Change Blindness Effect, 2015
Ballpoint ink on 3 ply Bristol
13 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (34.3 x 31.8 x 3.8 cm)
Butt Johnson’s show Quaint Abstraction (at CRG Gallery, ending this Sunday) is the most joyful exploration of what a line can and can’t do, physically and within our eye. You could choose to see the work here as endurance drawing or technical virtuosity and both of these things would be valid. You could see incised lines and engraved foil paper as the conjuring of op-art maximalism. I don’t. What I see in Butt Johnson’s line is the purposeful journey towards discovery. (NOTE: pseudonyms should always be so hilariously juvenile)
Within CRG’s new space, one can see 4 year’s worth of drawings of abstracted forms with the hyper-fine line that has become the artist’s hallmark. At first encountering, I was overwhelmed with line. My eye was unsure of what to focus on in images like The Change Blindness Effect, 2015 where the color spectrum becomes vibrant at close range and primarily black at a distance (because of the choice to separate each color with a fine black line). Then I came to see all the work a second time and was able to experience the show anew. While I still saw an overwhelming amount of information, the whole image became my focus. I was able enjoy the strange scribbled lines that become both obstacles and compositional elements as in The Clustering Illusion, 2013. I saw all white or clear works on plexi that removed the baggage of color and still blossomed with floating image, flirting with moire because of their two sided composition. The drawings on foil paper may appear to be flashier at first, but often are the most direct, if you can consider thousand’s of interlocking hand drawn lines direct. The quilt-like work The Binding Problem, 2015 is inexplicably detailed. It’s beautiful interlocking forms belie the stupefying level of detail and all the while, with white skips of open space descending like Duchamp’s form from the upper left to lower right, remains warm and even sweet in it’s effect.
The Binding Problem, 2015
Ballpoint ink on 3 ply Bristol
27 1/4 x 34 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (69.2 x 87.6 x 3.8 cm)
The materials here are not precious. The techniques are 100’s of years old in many cases (see Piranesi). What is here is the combination of interest in and striving for innovation in an expression of line that invokes old master etchings and Paul Klee’s late Bauhaus era abstractions.
I am a fan, that much is certain. I came to the artist through prints and got to know the drawings. Each time I see the way they shift, I am challenged anew at my notions of what is capable with a line, or rather thousand of them. Somewhere between the standard perception of a line on a plane (to use Kandinsky’s thoughts) and the alchemical reaction that occurs when we love an image is where Butt Johnson lives for me. If I could explain it all, who would need the images and more importantly, why do you need these words? My main reason for them is to make sure you take notice.
Author’s note: 12 of the 500 words above are “line”
– Jeff Bergman