ENCOUNTERS WITH THE ART OF ELEANOR BUTT
By Julie Gittus, March 2015.
It’s difficult to define what I’m seeking when I pick up a book, listen to music, or view an installation or exhibition. Art and its effect on us can be profound and mysterious, touching on a place inside of ourselves beyond the power of language, a part of us that’s intricately connected with the mystery of being.
As a writer, I make sense of my experience of the world through stories. The foundations to powerful stories are time and place. Especially place. As the great American writer Eudora Welty once said: Every story would be a different story if it happened somewhere else. I’m telling you this because I recognize my bias here, how my appreciation of particular artists is based on the ability of their work to convey a powerful connection to place, a connection based on what I sense is the artists’ visceral knowledge of a landscape, a suburb or house even. Helen Garner’s stories, Peter Sculthorpe’s music, John Wolseley’s drawings and paintings often articulate this connection perfectly for me. And sometimes my experience of an artist’s connection to place goes deeper, allowing my own recollection of a particular feeling, understanding, or moment in time, an astonishment of memory that’s fundamental to me.
There’s something thrilling about encountering an emerging artist’s work that has the power to take you to that place. I remember coming across Eleanor Butt’s installation on the street-facing wall of the Workers Club at a busy intersection in Melbourne: Sundial (marking the passage of time), a hand-printed photograph, with acrylic paint and clay. This metre-high image of a boulder immediately reduced the surroundings - think highrise flats and peak hour traffic - into an intrinsic transience. Through her compelling placement of a luminous, slightly surreal sun her striking piece of photography had been transformed into an eloquent meditation on the relativity of time. I felt as if I was standing before a window to a truth I’d forgotten I knew. Everything passes. Even rock.
My next encounter with Eleanor’s work was her ‘Time Circles’ exhibition at Seventh Gallery three months later. I can still recall my sense of pleasure as I stepped into the gallery, that aha moment where I could tell at a glance the work would speak to that illusive part of myself. Through a mixture of mediums – acrylics, clay, photography and small sculpted objects, Eleanor had expanded on the Time Circles piece that I’d come across at a busy intersection. The main body of the exhibition was twenty-one identically framed pieces that hung together as a block to form a ‘stream of consciousness’ about different aspects of a particular natural landscape. The power of this work was complimented by the poetic nature of the individual titles: Time circles boulders kiss, and Heavy mountain sitting soft. Like mini haikus, the words hinted of a Japanese aesthetic that was echoed by the bold mastery of her brush strokes.
Eleanor’s new work is lush with light. We get to experience the weightlessness and wonder of air. Is it really possible to resist the invitation to participate in her sensual visions of place with dreamy works accompanied by titles such as: falling, floating holding and how did it feel?
Pantheistic in its approach, Eleanor’s art allows us to re-consider our individual relationship to the natural world. Through her ability to intimately share her moment by moment experience of place we are reminded of the sacredness inherent in rock, tree, shadow and sky. And if you’re lucky Eleanor’s art might offer you what it offers to me – the chance to touch, almost taste what the Canadian writer Alice Munro termed: my radiant vanishing consolations.