Tom Butler: Inhabitants, Charlie Smith London

Tom Butler: Inhabitants, Charlie Smith London

Charlie Smith London presents new work by artist Tom Butler in his second solo show this year, Inhabitants. The exhibition, which opened to the public on 20 Febuary, will be on display until 28 March. After exhibiting across Europe and America, Butler’s latest show builds on the ongoing series of appropriated Victorian cabinet cards. Each subject is transformed as the artist paints the cards with intricate and delicate gouache, engaged with an inexplicable shape, pattern or species.

Butler instinctively decides how to alter the subject from the inherent character of the card and position of the sitter. This new series introduces fresh motifs as well as developing exisisting motifs, from geometric clouds to spiritual exhalations. At times the sitter might be entirely obscured and at others their features remain very much apparent to the viewer. The subject is pre-occupied rather than overwhelmed by these additions, giving the impression that the sitter is interacting with a mysterious force.

The Slade School of Fine Art alumnus has developed an ever expanding population of characters provide continued fascination for audiences, as well as himself. Butler has described how, in order to let the population grow, he began to imagine an island where his characters could exist and develop. This idea spawned the title of the exhibition, Inhabitants, which also comes from H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr Moreau, where a shipwrecked man is brought to the shores of a mysterious island of beast-men created in scientific experiments who are referred to only as ‘the inhabitants’.

Using similar modes of modification, Butler has introduced renditions of pairs, groups and families alongside the single subjects with which he first captured audience’s attention. Through this development, the artist toys with group dynamics, accentuating isolation or integration. Varied motifs within single pieces suggest the different direction that individual lives take. At times sinister and always nostalgic, the notion of passing time becomes increasingly evident in these small snapshots of Victorian life.

Tom Butler: Inhabitants, until 28 March, Charlie Smith London, 33 Old Street, 2nd Floor, London, EC1V 9DR, United Kingdom.

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1. Tom Butler, Hawkes (2014). Gouache on Albumen print. Courtesy of Charlie Smith London.