In Conversation: Jason Butler | Seeker & Speaker

Jason Butler is a British figurative painter based in Jersey. He studied at Bristol University and Cheltenham Art College. In the last years, Butler has stepped outside of his portraiture work and into a more conceptual approach that has led to his new body of work, titled: Seekers.

Hi Jason, tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Nottingham, England but have lived in Jersey, Channel Islands since I was a child. I studied at Bristol and Cheltenham for my art education and have always used Jersey as my base professionally.

The Only Way. © Jason Butler.

You seem to have two distinct styles; are we reading this correctly?
Well, I occasionally take on portrait commissions so these are often more detailed and representational than the other work. My studio practice is heavily directed towards the more concept-based work which is my main focus.

I don’t think of ‘style’ in any way when making the paintings. It is very processed based so it develops over a period of time. The ‘Seekers’ exhibition was produced over several years so inevitably it went through different stages during that time. Because I was till doing some part-time lecturing up until 3 years ago I had to take more time developing it all than I would now. The body of work I am currently working on is developing a lot quicker and is hopefully cohesive as a result.

The Painter. © Jason Butler.

Tell us about this new conceptual approach, there is something eerie about it, it’s fantastic, what influenced this approach?
I wouldn’t say it is new as my work has been interested in the idea of Rituals and Utopias since I was at college. The ‘Seekers’ work was an opportunity to really research and explore a whole range of ideas based around those two words. I didn’t set out to make work with that eerie feel, it came very much from the process of continually reworking them until I felt they were resolved in some way. The strength of the imagery was paramount in that particular body of work whereas now the new stuff is much more concerned with the surface quality of the paintings and the paint itself.

Working in progress. © Jason Butler.

What other media do you work in?
I have done some printmaking and drawing although painting is my central concern. Oil painting is such a massive learning process that everyday feels like I am starting all over again. I think my work, particularly the new stuff is primarily concerned with the act painting itself.

Untitled. © Jason Butler.

How do you pace yourself, and how many pieces do you normally have going at any given time?
I work 5/6 days a week and tend to arrive at the studio from 7:30 and leave around 5:30. My attitude to it is that it is a discipline and a job so I’m not sure I think of it in terms of pacing myself, I just go in and make work. It’s a joy to be able to paint for a living and I never want to take it for it granted. That said, it is also very challenging.

Working in the Studio. © Jason Butler.

I always have many paintings on the go at the same time. It can be anything from 20-60 depending on the circumstances. It is important to point out though that not all them work! The main reason for having loads on the go is to ensure I don’t overwork them and so I can put them away and then come at them fresh after a period of time. I have many right now that I haven’t looked at in months but when I do get them out again I will feel comfortable in completely reworking them. It is working method that suits me and has become second nature over the years.

Prehension. © Jason Butler.

What artist/artwork inspires you and why?
So many not sure where to start. I think as I grow older and have built up more experience it’s more like a silent conversation with other artists. The main painters who have always been central are the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Goya, Manet etc. ‘The Flaying of Marsyas’ by Titian is a work that has been relevant to me ever since I was at college. When I was 21 I managed to get over to Paris to see the major Titian exhibition and it was displayed there. It completely blew me away. I have always remembered my tutor at college saying it felt as though Titian had wiped his palette on the canvas and this image had miraculously emerged. That feels relevant to me now as a painter more than ever.

Seeker I. © Jason Butler.

We are particularly intrigued by Searcher III, what inspired that, and what evoked such a ‘quiet’ piece?
As with all the other paintings from the ‘Seeker’ exhibition it was produced over several years. Even though it is a small painting it went through exactly the same process as the big paintings. If it feels ‘quiet’ I can’t say I set out at the beginning to do that. I think it’s just more a case of going with the process and then deciding if it is working. Much of the work took on a particular feel which I am sure is a combination of many different influences and feelings on my part.

Searcher III. © Jason Butler.

What’s next for you? What goals do to aspire to going forward?
Basically, I am just painting every day and seeing where it takes me. Thankfully my last exhibition sold well enough for me to be able to get my head down and concentrate on really pushing the work forward. There are some very exciting possibilities in the pipeline regarding exhibiting the work in the future. I am building up a body of work right now so who knows where it might go. The current work is pushing me hard and is very challenging, although I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am keen on getting the work displayed in great spaces, however the main thing is to be in a position where I can paint every day and keep improving, everything else is a bonus.

Thanks Jason!