Butt Johnson's "Untitled Floral Pastiche" series consists of four drawings, each of which is organized around a different flower. Johnsons had long considered using ornamental motifs as stock elements in drawings. Last year, CRG Gallery approached the artist about participating in a show inspired by George Bataille's essay "The Language of Flowers." These works came out of study of that text.
Johnson's drawings are on view at CRG Gallery through February 13. They will go on view at the ADAA at the Park Avenue Armory, March 2–7.
The drawings use motifs from multiple sources, unified by a stylistic language that references the engraved line. The pastiche aspect of the work allows each element to work in a specific vocabulary while suggesting that the components are interchangeable parts.
Each drawing in the series features a flower from Bataille's essay, specifically those flowers upon which human emotions are assigned emblematically: the Columbine for Sadness, Snapdragons for desire, the Water Lily for indifference, and the Rose for Love. The flowers are not necessarily meant to perform these symbolic functions in the drawings, but could be iconic stand-ins for the flowers themselves. I think it's interesting that there might be traditional associations concerning the flowers, but you don't necessarily have to know them to get something from the work.
The imagery is from from secondary sources, ranging from Google Image Search to published reference books. I like to borrow elements from Florid Victorian Ornament, a book of work by the 19th Century German engraver Karl Klimsch, and the classic The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones. I usually eyeball these and draw them by hand, though occasionally I use a lightbox if the pattern is exceptionally difficult. In addition, I use two different spirograph tools to create the geometric patterns—the Kenner toy from 1965 and the "Klutz" spiral pattern maker. The arabesque was inspired by an Islamic star ornament from Titus Burckhardt's Art of Islam: Language and Meaning... but unable to trace the pattern accurately, I had to figure out the geometry to make it work, which was pretty fascinating even though I'm not mathematically inclined.
The geometric patterns are known as rosettes, and whilethey are not directly derived from flowers, there is an abstract relationship to flowers that I think is appealing. In the case of the Islamic patterns the relationship is more pronounced, since the creation of images in Islam is generally forbidden.
I've been working under the name Butt Johnson for the last 10 years, partially as a way of examining the legitimacy of authorship and the branding of the "artist" as a commercial product. I also like (and sometimes hate) the contrast between the throwaway quality of the name itself and the painstaking processes of making my drawings. My signature, like most aspects of my drawings, is based around the visual traditions of engraving—I think it functions best in that form, and hopefully even projects an air of consequence.
"Acedia," the title of Swiss photographer Olivier Richon's exhibition at Ibid Projects, describes a state of indolence, reverie and torpor.