Metamorphosis @ Butters Gallery
Exhibit Opens On First Thursday
It's a bustling evening in the Old Town District 2000 as art lovers fill the sidewalks and galleries for the monthly First Thursday open gallery event. I open the door to the Butters Art Gallery and walk up the long narrow staircase that leads into the spacious room. The gallery itself is a work of art, with gleaming hardwood floors, white walls sloping at interesting angles, and the light of the setting sun filling the room from big windows on the opposite wall.
The theme of the exhibition is “Metamorphosis”, be it a literal transformation of the art or an evolution of the artist herself. Some of the art, Allison, the intern explains to me, utilizes reused elements like Carolyn Cole's paintings that are layered with letters and envelopes underneath the vibrant squares of paint. When I meet Carolyn Butters, who is kind enough to chat with me for several minutes and give me a tour of the gallery, she mentions how Katherine Levin-Lau's art has changed dramatically from the last time she saw her work. Jiro Yonezawa, whose work is sculptural and influenced by basket weaving, has a piece that reminds me of a cocoon, hanging from the ceiling. I appreciate the varying ways that the show's theme is interpreted.
Out of everything here, though, I think the art the most embodies the energy of metamorphosis is the work of Deborah Gillis. Her wildly colorful, abstract paintings have movement; they are anything but stagnant. When I ask her about her creative process, she says, “I just start painting. And then I keep painting.”
“Each piece goes through about twenty permutations,” she says. “If it gets too static, I have to just stop being careful and get a little crazy.”
“How do you know when it's done?” I ask her.
“Usually when I hit the deadline,” she laughs. “I feed on doing things at the last minute. In fact, yesterday I delivered five small paintings that were still wet! I mean, I had been working on them a long time but at the last minute I thought they needed some changes.”
“I love risk taking,” she goes on. “You have to be willing to destroy your art. You have to just keep moving. I get to the point where it stops my thinking, it stops me from overworking it. Nothing can be too precious.”
“Have you always had this attitude about your art?” I ask.
“Ten years ago I couldn't do paintings like this,” she says, shaking her head. “The work I used to do was much more... subdued. I had a friend who bought one of my old paintings and she said, 'I love it, it's so soothing! I keep it in my bedroom.' I was appalled. I didn't want my art to be soothing!”
Standing in front of her largest painting, engulfed by its joyful riot of hot pinks, pale yellows, and tangerines, I realized I did feel soothed, but in a challenging, invigorating way. I feel the fearlessness that Gillis felt as she was painting it; the power of free expression.
“You know, sometimes I do know when something is done,” she mused, looking at her painting. “This one was completely different a few days ago. So I busted out some spray paint and covered up the spots I didn't like, then kept going. It's those last few strokes that make it. They keep the painting alive.”