James Butler Untitled (1985)
24.5 x 30.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago

James d. butler in a field near jamesway 150

James Butler (b. 1945) spent his childhood in rural Iowa amongst sweeping American farmland and lush open landscape, which became an impactful catalyst for his later artistic practice. Butler earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Omaha and his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Beginning in 1965, Butler’s practice centered on creating large-scale paintings of the rural and industrial American landscape, with a specific focus on capturing scenes from Nebraska and Iowa. Butler was influenced by Tom Palmerton, who painted scenes of the Midwest American landscape, prairie life, and early settlement.

Within each of his compositions, Butler strives to not only accurately present the Midwestern terrain, but to harness the “magic” that he felt and interpreted while visiting different locations.

Working from a place of personal attachment to the land, Butler’s paintings evoke his intimate experience from visiting the sight and the essence of the landscape scene. By imbuing his works with an emotional disposition, Butler’s paintings and drawings have a regional Americana style similar to the idyllic beauty of Grant Wood or Thomas Heart Benton.

Butler has a strong interest in the environmental impact of early American settlements and our contemporary society’s misuse, pollution, and destruction of land. In Chicago art history, Butler’s career-long dedication to capturing Midwest scenes offers a distinct visual timeline from the mid-1960s to the present time.

His artwork evokes the beauty of the Midwest but also documents the negative consequences of over-development, industry, and modernity. Butler has been exhibited widely and is included in major public collections across the nation, including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Library of Congress, Washington D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

James Butler (b. 1945) spent his childhood in rural Iowa amongst sweeping American farmland and lush open landscape, which became an impactful catalyst for his later artistic practice. Butler earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Omaha and his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.    
         
Beginning in 1965, Butler created large-scale paintings of the rural and industrial American landscape, with a specific focus on capturing scenes from Nebraska and Iowa. As an artist, Tom Palmerton, who painted scenes of the Midwest American landscape, prairie life, and early settlement, influenced him. Within each of his compositions, Butler strived to not only accurately present the Midwestern terrain, but to harness the “magic” that he felt and interpreted while visiting different locations. Butler’s paintings evoke his intimate experience of visiting the location and his emotional attachment to the land, which then becomes the essence of the landscape painting. By imbuing his works with an emotional disposition, Butler’s paintings and drawings have a regional Americana style similar to the idyllic beauty of Grant Wood or Thomas Heart Benton. He has a strong interest in the environmental impact of early American settlements and our contemporary society’s misuse, pollution, and destruction of land.

In Chicago art history, Butler’s career-long dedication to capturing Midwest scenes offers a distinct visual timeline from the mid-1960s to the present time. His artwork evokes the beauty of the Midwest but also documents the negative consequences of over-development, industry, and modernity.  Butler has been exhibited widely and is included in major public collections across the nation, including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Library of Congress, Washington D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
           

Untitled
(c. 1985) is from a midpoint in Butler’s career. In the foreground of the landscape, a sweeping farmland terrain draws the viewer back across the land towards a small-scale farmhouse, silos, and buildings peppered along the distant horizon line. The horizon line falls high on the canvas, allowing the farmland to overwhelm the scene as a deep and wide terrain with unending boundaries. Beginning at the bottom edge, loose upturned dirt organically fills the bottom composition, and Butler included details such as individual fine blades of grass and small rocks within the dirt, which offers an intimate textured micro view of the macro farm.  But the ground transforms towards the middle of the composition into neatly controlled rows of deep, golden brown dirt, which creates a sense of order and utility to the land. The manmade geometry leads the viewer vertically towards the very residence who work the land, creating a direct relationship between the agents of the farm and their effect on the ground. Color is used throughout the composition to evoke an ideal scene of the farmland and residents. Along the horizon line are multiple small white houses, silos, and barns of the farm. The distant structures and houses are rendered pristine white and are not weathered, thus creating a romantic and idyllic portrayal of a working farm. The sky is a piercing clear blue with soft, light-white clouds that cascades in the distance. In the ground below, the vibrant green grass and lush hunter green trees that surround the fields of dirt also enhance the idealist vision of the land. In Butler’s larger practice, he creates relationships between the land that he is portraying and the impact and effects humans leave behind. While the farmland is controlled and shaped, showing a symbiotic productive relationship between humans and land, in the left edge of the horizon line the terrain is comprised of flatland and a forest line that is not groomed and harvested by the hands of people. This small moment in the large composition shows a duality between the manmade farm and the natural, untouched, land beyond. In Untitled, Butler showed the beauty and order of a sweeping farm, but also the unending potential of unaltered land, having created a harmonious image of a classic American scene. 

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