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For six weeks during May and June of 2023, Benjamin Butler was an artist-in-residence at SoArt on Lake Millstatt (Millstätter See) in Austria. The post-modernist studio building on the picturesque lake is a five hour drive from Butler’s home and studio in Vienna, on a piece of land accessible primarily by boat. With the live/work space directly on the water, and large picture windows looking out at the mountains, Butler’s conceptual approach to landscape painting moved into new territory.
This edition of KLAUSGALLERY.cloud looks at Butler’s time living and painting on the lake. With photos taken during his stay, and personal reflections written upon his return home, we’re given an inside view of the painter’s process and thinking as he created a new body of work. We focus on four paintings made at the residency in various tones of black and white, gray and silver. Butler’s characteristic confident brushwork is on full display, as he translates the scenes around him into abstract form.
The rainy weather also had an affect on the appearance of the landscape. It was always changing, offering seemingly endless possibilities. Moonlight reflected beautifully on the water and sunsets were sublime. There were sunny days, and torrential downpours, insect invasions, visits from swans and snakes, and creaking noises in the night. I took a lot of photographs of the lake and surrounding landscape, made simple line drawings from selected photographs, and used these drawings as a starting point for the oil paintings.
There were no white walls in the studio, which required some getting used to. I found myself viewing the paintings as they leaned against the glass doors. The flickering lake water became the background for my work and also something for me to measure the paintings’ strength against. This was not an easy battle, competing directly with nature in real time. It also had a direct influence on the direction of the work that I made at the residency. The majority of the paintings echoed the water’s surface with stylistically ‘impressionist’, ‘pointillist’, or ‘digital’ horizontal brushstrokes, and with a limited palette of silver and black. I am definitely not a plein air landscape painter, but I did enjoy putting the paintings on an easel outside, just to take pictures. These photographs were, for me, souvenirs of my time at Lake Millstatt, or maybe the paintings were the real mementos.
– Benjamin Butler, 2023