This month our writer Sara Felton went along to meet Jason Butler, a figurative painter living and working in Jersey, to talk about his life as a full time artist and his latest body of conceptual work.
It’s been a busier than normal few months for Jason. Having recently made the decision to spend time focusing entirely on his own body of conceptual work and portrait commissions, he’s also taken on an incredible new studio space, based in Commercial Buildings.
This vast inspiring old warehouse could easily be a gallery as well as a studio space, ‘the moment I put one of my big paintings up I knew this was the right place. I’ve always been lucky to have great studios in the past, but now, because I’m making such big work, in the old studios I didn’t know whether they were good or not. Whereas now, having put them up in here I know if they’ll make it on a gallery wall, as this is as good a gallery space as there probably is in the island now.” He’s not wrong, natural light floods the room making it the kind of place that would easily encourage and inspire creativity.
‘Every time I drive here in the mornings I take a little detour, having dropped my youngest at school in Grouville, I drive along the coast road and then end up coming over the top of Mount Bingham and am greeted by the sight of the same fishing boats, boats on their mornings and one of the best views in the island, it never fails to make me smile and look forward to coming to work. I grew up around this area so it’s really special to have found such an great space in this location.’
The studio walls are currently playing host to a collection of Jason’s latest conceptual body of work, a captivating series of huge canvases inspired by hero-worship. ‘The work has many different nuances, but is very much about leaders and followers. There’s a phrase cognitive dissonance (the feeling of an uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time), which I stumbled upon and that was the moment when it all clicked into place for me. We all battle with this every day, we’re all capable of being seduced by one person, or by crowds. So what happens when you take the power of a crowd, feeling like you’re at one with this crowd of people, what happens to those people? Whilst equally there is a history of fake gurus, who are capable of dragging a lot of people along with them, whilst it’s clear to the majority of people that they’re complete charlatans and should possibly be sanctioned, they are still successful in seducing people. I guess you could say the interest is in human folly and wanting to be a part of something.’
So, being faced with the freedom of working within this huge space and on his own everyday, I want to know what motivates Jason to keep on going, because it would be easy to just kick back on the sofa and get absorbed in the latest episode of The Wire (a personal favourite of his, he tells me) with a cup of coffee beside you. ‘I’m lucky that discipline hasn’t been a problem for me, because I love what I do so much. So I just come in and work each day, really hard. Being an artist, like lots of jobs is hard work, you have to love the hard work and that’s what keeps me going.’
Jason currently splits his days between working on his current portrait commissions in the mornings and then focuses on his conceptual work in the second half of the day. The body of work has been forming over the last four and a half years, possibly as far back as college, during which time he has been heavily researching the subject area, he then started the big work around three years ago. Many of the pieces have changed over time, some as recently as the days leading up to his studio opening party last month, (supported by Quilter Cheviot). ‘One of the pieces I hadn’t even looked at in six months, so when I pulled it out on the Tuesday I decided to see if I could resurrect, so by having the pressure of the opening in two days time, in a funny kind of way that was a good deadline. During that time it went from one of my weakest to what I feel is now the strongest piece in the collection.’
Whilst he’s not specifically working towards an exhibition, he does have a date and a venue standing by. With this in mind I asked if any of the paintings are finished, at this he laughed and explained that ‘for the first time I know what I need to do on them all now, whereas it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that I’ve suddenly felt that. I think that having spent such a long time reading and watching things online I think it’s permeated into the work so much now, I’m not having to come up with ideas, they’re just there. Now it’s about how well I can do that and putting those ideas into practice.’
The thing about spending time with someone like Jason Butler, is that there’s just not enough space within this page to allow me to do the man justice. Not only could I have remained in his company for the rest of the day, I could also continue to tell you more and more about the exceptional work he’s in the process of creating. What I will say is, if you’re ever lucky enough to pop along and meet him, accept the invitation immediately. Like he intends his work to be to those that experience it, it’ll be a journey and one that you’ll not be disappointed you made.