G. GIBSON GALLERY, SEATTLE WA – To March 3, 2018
By Matthew Kangas
The veteran African-American artist Weldon Butler, who moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1968, has been largely overlooked as a sculptor and printmaker because he rejects political and social subject matter. As a result, most curators have failed to understand his roots in modernist abstraction. Instead, Butler, 78, notes how “my art is the opposite of organic. I’m inspired by cities: the pattern of city grids, manhole covers, trolley lines, and the tread of tires, sidewalks and streets… My materials tend to be urban, too. If I need color, I go to Home Depot or True Value [Hardware]. As a sculptor, I have a vocabulary of shapes, not a palette of colors like a painter.”
This small survey covers collages, drawings, prints, and sculptures from 1991 to the present. Ivory and Mahogany (2002) echoes Barnett Newman’s “zips” or painted stripes, but the colors in this case allude to endangered animals and plants in Africa. Elsewhere, Transit (2005), a collage, plays with aluminum foil and the pink, green and yellow colors of daily bus-transfer tickets. Included in the African American Museum in Philadelphia (he is a graduate of Temple University), Butler’s work is also in collections at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle Pacific University, and art in public places programs of the City of Seattle and Washington State. Butler’s retrospective at Kirkland Arts Center in 2015 was a start at learning more about him, as is this grouping, but a deeper, wider investigation is urgentlyneeded to appreciate this brilliant artist.