Since the Renaissance the art of the portrait has meant to capture the visage of those who sit before the artist’s easel. These portraits were commissioned to depict the desired nature of their subject; their anointed, God-given power, their vast wealth, their pious nature, or in the case of La Gioconda, their unwavering beauty and eternal mystery.
While Tricia Butski’s work deals principally with portraiture, you wont find her subjects smiling coyly. Her figures gesture forth from undulating waves of distortion which only serve to push them further into the background. Butski’s artwork – grounded in exploring the elasticity of memory, and how that is tied to visual memory and recall – allows viewers to slip into the narrow space between remembering and forgetting. The faces and bodies within her work are presented beneath ice-like layers of distortion and fragmentation; they become both whole and disparate, recognizable and unfamiliar, each playing into the viewer’s sense of the uncanny and a mis-recognition of something familiar in their depths.
Butski’s latest body of work is on view now at Revolution Gallery. The latest in a string of solo exhibits, Fathom is an entirely new body of work, which still operates in her signature style of black and white, large format, charcoal portraiture. This body of work encounters Butski in new territory; working beyond her mastery of altered portraits, the artist depicts entire bodies, both whole and fragmented. In the show’s titular piece the viewer encounters a body amid ghastly, velvety waves of charcoal, it is at once recognizable and distorted, and carries the voyeuristic implication of looking upon a large-scale nude which is caught hovering somewhere between living and dead.
The monstrous form of the body is further explored in a smaller series of work in which Butski executes pieces of a portrait as individual works of art. The close-up, distorted pieces are made claustrophobic by their small scale and become cinematic in their lighting and cropping. Closer to Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” series, Butski’s “Fragment” series marks a darker turn for the artist. By choosing to focus upon pieces of the body and the implied horror of their fragmentation, the artist digs into a rich tradition of the female subject as object, and the presence of the viewers gaze into the subject over the presence (or absence) of a body. Butski, like Sherman, pursues this but in a manner closer toward Alfred Hitchcock’s femme fatales and buxom victims. We remember the murder of Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s Psycho, but we always focus upon the act itself. Butski, focuses upon the slices of horror which we could imagine to be the Crane’s last moments, and the moments of horror mirrored in the gaze of its viewers. This disambiguation of the body serves to sever our relationship to something tangible, and spirits the viewer away to a place both cold and terrifying.
Fathom asks us, the audience, to look past the figures Butski has so deftly distorted and instead to consider the emotional undercurrents lurking beneath each piece. This new body of work not only entices us like the curve of La Gioconda’s smile, but also encroaches upon our psyche like the hazy, sfumato landscape just beyond her shoulders. Fathom is on view now at Revolution Gallery, 1419 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo, NY through February 17, 2018. There will be a closing reception for the exhibit February 16, 2018 from 8-11pm. More information can be found at revolutionartgallery.com