Bradley Butler was made for these times

Where Did It Go?, Bradley Butler, 8″ x 10″, acrylic on panel

Bradley Butler’s recent solo exhibition at Williams-Insalaco Gallery 34 at Finger Lakes Community College was a quiet thrill. The work is quietly evocative, simple, deeply felt and as ontologically disorienting as a Beckett play. He took his title from Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson’s groundbreaking album: I just wasn’t made for these times. Many of his titles were equally candid in their unknowing vulnerability: I Don’t Know What I’m Doing Here and I Want to Believe in Something. His dark, mysterious landscapes—Turner meets Giorgione meets David Smith’s Hong Kong paintings—evoke a multitude of perceptions that hover just below the reach of the intellect. They are extremely simple in their execution. He uses black, white, thalo ted and thalo treen, and his brushwork remains mostly uniform across the canvas. He reduces his methods to the fewest possible choices and still comes up with a broad array of images that seem to straddle the border between one’s inner life and a twilight world of mountainous space, all of them looking consistently primordial. He seems not to want to assume to know more about existence than what prevailed before the first few words of the Book of Genesis. The way he gets so much variation out of such a paucity of tools reminds me of a guitar lesson I had in my teens when my instructor told me to riff for five minutes, without repeating myself, against a minor seventh blues chord progression by using only three notes. There were, to say the least, a lot of long, expressive pauses. Butler, in his relatively small canvases, creates a sense of vast reaches of an undiscovered world. It beckons and invites you to venture past a corner that juts into view, but also makes you hesitate, unsure what you are going to find. I posted one of his paintings on Instagram and simply quoted a passage from Lao Tzu as commentary:

Something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and earth.
In the silence and the void,
Standing alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name.”

I disagree with Butler’s show title though. His work seems perfectly attuned to his times, being an example of an honest uncertainty and humility that would go a long way to being an antidote to the cloud of knowingness that cloaks how people communicate now. Anyone interested in seeing Butler’s work can find him most days doing a remarkable job of showing excellent art at his gallery, Main Street Arts in Clifton Springs, where a fascinating national juried show of small workswill be up until the Dec. 23rd.

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