Daniel Butterworth

We don’t look at ourselves enough. I’m not referring to the narcissistic and fawning gaze of a President over his mushroom belly, or the obliviated self-appraisal of a celebrity lost in the rapture of their “egogasm”. I’m talking about the stand in front of a mirror, drop your kit, take a deep breath and really look… Looking hard at yourself casting aside shame; ignoring self-doubt; standing, revealed to yourself, that sort of deep look at and into yourself. We really don’t do that enough as a society either…
Danny Butterworth stands in front of mirrors. A lot of mirrors! If the number of self-portraits he produces is an indicator? He fronts them in all sorts of weather, good times, bad times, in-between times. Gazing into his soul as if he is attempting a cartographic work on the byways and highways of heaven and hell, his face, his body are the roads, hills, valleys and mountains.
It’s brave to really look and be neither repulsed nor drowned in that Jenny Saville gaze, in the flesh of the paint or the facial cracks and lines of timeworn imperfection. Danny handles the paints like a later day Egon Schiele rather than a Jenny Saville but he has Saville’s voluminous presence and he lacks only the doubt and painful self-obsession that can make Saville’s work both compelling and vulgar. Danny’s work is a delight.
Danny moves paint around the canvas and doesn’t judge the person or the materials. In a world where objectification and commodification has become a form of identity theft that empowers a dictatorship of identity; this is significant virtue.
We are a visual species and objectification is as inevitable as the magic our projections of desire and fantasy impose upon those we view. Western art has always wrapped itself around commodification. Portraiture is social status; displayed for all to see. Status of subject, status of owner.
A curious effect of that relationship is that, where artists render a likeness and sell the canvas or paper, we also sell the identity of the person we have rendered. This is as true in drawing as it is in photography; what differs is the mechanical intention of the artist and this has been a topical cause of disquiet for men, woman, feminists and the religious for centuries. We all have different reasons for being upset, concerned, engaged, delighted or titillated.
Then there is Danny’s work. It is unusual, it doesn’t denigrate the subject in its’ objectification. Danny doesn’t render his subjects into objects of desire or sympathy, nor does he objectify or heroicise. He imparts dignity in his subjects which he reveals from looking directly into them. Danny captures a spirit and a zeitgeist of Australia as it is today. He translates that onto canvas and paper using paint but the dignity and strengths of the subjects cannot be found in a tube of paint! That comes from the power of his gaze, the playfulness of his persona and his mastery of the medium.
Lawrence Finn 2019.