Although shes been in Durango for the last 10 years, I didnt become familiar with Sandra Butlers art until earlier this year at the In2itive exhibition at the Fort Lewis College Gallery. Since then I have been exposed to more of her work, most recently at the Steaming Bean coffee house on Main Avenue.
Butlers art is different than most any you will see here or elsewhere. Her rawhide construction sculptures look like aliens from a faraway galaxy or some weird desert fauna and eerie sea anemones.
They have tentacles, thick hides and orifices similar to a Venus fly trap. The colors are rich and organic and are often enhanced by an internal L.E.D. glow, something akin to E.T.s heart light.
Butler uses rawhide, sand, wire, horse hair, wax, sometimes yarn and other materials to construct her three-dimensional art.
The resulting configurations might stand as high as eight feet or seem to grow out of the wall; they are also bizarrely beautiful. Finding a meaning in their presentation is not easy, and as often as not, there isnt one, other than the artists self-expression.
She says her concepts begin with a metaphoric idea and evolve through the interaction between her and the work during the construction process. In describing her methodology Butler says, The process of building a sculpture is a journey, and the finished work is always a surprise.
Born and raised in Montana, she attended Montana State University in Bozeman intending to study psychology, but fate had another discipline in the offing.
She serendipitously took an elective sculpture course that literally changed her direction, and while it might seem to be a complete turn around, she came to believe that, Exploring the human psyche through art was a more meaningful process.
Bozeman also happens to be home to two great American artists; husband and wife John Buck and Deborah Butterfield. Both of these sculptors use combinations of wood and metal as well as wire in their renowned work and knowing Butler has worked with the two artists it becomes clear where she acquired her earliest influence.
After graduation from MSU, Sandra attended Virginia Commonwealth University and received her Master of Fine Arts. Like many artists, her degree enables her to teach at a higher level and she has done so at Fort Lewis College, and is currently teaching Art Appreciation at Southwest Community College in addition to being Coordinator of Art Education at the Durango Arts Center. She has exhibited in New Mexico, California and Colorado, and in Durango at the former Ellis-Crane Gallery.
Her present show at the Steaming Bean is an opportunity to see a different medium. Eleven pastel renderings shape the exhibit titled The Side Effects of Dreaming, yet the colorful drawings continue to portray other-worldly metaphors.
These pastel compositions could be visualizations of her three-dimensional work, but the artist has turned within to explore what may be journeys into the recesses of her mind. They are reminiscent of abstract paintings by Georgia OKeeffe from the 1920s. On closer inspection, the viewer will find stitch work laced through the drawings, I just cant get away from three-dimension, she says.
The Steaming Bean exhibition will remain on display through the month of August.
Stew Mosberg is a freelance writer who has written about art regionally and nationally. Reach him at [email protected]