Butski wanted to figure out how to talk about this process visually. She says, “I made a bunch of paintings and sanded the paint off, creating a blurred, textured effect.” Was this about loss? The removal of memory? It “didn’t feel right,” she says.
Then Butski began working with layers. The psychologist Sigmund Freud described the unconscious as like an ancient city, with its history of settlements and towns, built up, destroyed, rebuilt, over and over again, retaining traces of everything that’s gone before. There is something to Butski's process that’s like this: materials layered on top of drawings, on top of paintings, on top of photographs. Sometimes she would pull an image up on her computer screen, wrap the screen in plastic, and then pour inks, water, and different ointments on top of it.
A class with then–UB Professor and comics artist and illustrator John Jennings unlocked something for Butski. The class focused on the meaning of monsters, the complex role they play in our mythologies and our psyches. Butski, too, was grappling with a monster; not disease, but the fears that came along with it: of someone changing, of it happening to someone else you loved. “I feel like a lot of art does come from trauma. Whether we mean for that to happen or not, it resurfaces in all different ways,” Butski says.
In looking at Butski's work one might think it is dark, but darkness isn’t straightforward either. Butski says, “People have different reactions, where they feel, ‘Oh my God, this is scary. It looks like a nightmare,’ and other people think it’s beautiful and comforting.”
Working with charcoal—quite literally the remains of animal and vegetable life—Butski revitalizes something dead. Like memory, charcoal too is impermanent, vulnerable to the elements and delicate. Butski says, “As long as it exists, it’s going to change, and it’s going to distort.”
That vulnerability can be terrifying to many of us, but Butski's work insists on the difference between loss and change. As some things are forgotten and others take on an oversized role in our imagination, she says, “There is some beauty in the distortion process of memory.”
We invite you to come and interact with Butski, as well as artists Julia Bottoms and Rachel Shelton, during their residencies at Albright-Knox Northland from June 26 to August 1. In order to ensure a safe environment for all, we encourage you to review our Courtesy Code and reserve your visit date and time prior to your arrival.