Jon Butt, Field
Strange Neighbour Gallery, Fitzroy; 9 May – 31 May 2014
Some art feels pre-loaded with its very own soundtrack, so as you make your way around the gallery you almost swear you can hear it playing inside the space between your eyes and the work. As if moving quickly you might catch it more clearly. Sometimes it’s like a residue of the artists’ efforts, the vibrant energy poured into a piece that continues to echo around it, long after the artist has birthed it into the world. Sometimes it’s the energy of the work itself working its meaning and its form on the world. I was struck by this notion inside Strange Neighbour when soaking in Jon Butt’s solo exhibition ‘Field’. It was the second scenario in this case, where the works whispered to me just out of earshot. But I could sense their sounds, and if I closed my eyes I could feel them too.
From the weighted sound of silence emitted by Atacemite, to the altitudinal hum of aerial perspective generated by the Field series, to the grinding of sub-tectonic rock in Folding and Inverting and Spinning, Jon’s work evokes the sublime in planetary scales. There is an interplay between the macro and the micro, where galaxies rub off against concrete floors and faceted rocks rub off against blue giants and white dwarfs. Alpine ranges and meteorites not so much compete with river stones and rocks, as coexist on parallel planes. They are one and the same, waiting for the viewer to still the oscillating impression and hold both realities simultaneously.
Atacemite is a large and captivating work, the form holding itself within the frame with a palpable sense of force. At first a tumbling comet and then a topographic map; a simple abstract expression of shape and scale, but then an intricate dance of medium fluidity. Jon has hand drawn hundreds of delicate line loops over the top of a digitally manipulated photograph of a mineral sample. It is scientific in flavour, evoking objectivity and empiricism, but overlaid and imbued with the subjectivity of the logographic and the individual residue of the artist’s choices. Every single hand drawn line closes itself in a loop and speaks to the cyclical nature of the systems and scales evoked broadly by the whole show. In Vortex I and II the horizon line is rotated into a spiralling 360 degrees, alternately invoking a push and pull on the viewer’s sense of pictorial space. We’re at once descending into a cave as we ascend rapidly into space.
Curatorially, the exhibition is crisp and refined, partly through an adherence to a consistency of colour choice and partly through the careful consideration of the spaces between the works in the gallery. Given Jon’s experience as curator himself, a well appointed exhibition is what you’d expect and a well appointed exhibition is what he delivers. This is landscape re-imagined, through the careful consideration of the photographic medium and its contemporary digital heritage. Collage and drawing are smoothly integrated into the working process, making for coherent imagery choreographed into a coherent body of work. Jon’s been instrumental in the arts in Melbourne, as a mentor, curator and facilitator, and it’s exciting to see this solo exhibition of his own works. And again, Strange Neighbour delivers yet another great show.