The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

ASSASSINATION: Sharon Butler, Artist, Blogger at Two Coats of Paint, and Associate Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University

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Photograph of Sharon Butler. Courtesy of Facebook.
Sharon Butler: Siding 2, 2008, oil on wood, 12 inches by 9.75 inches. Courtesy of Sharon Butler.

For many months, I have been a fanatic reader of a blog called “Two Coats of Paint.” Similar to the down-to-earth writings of Gerhard Richter, Sharon Butler‘s online entries explore both the theory and culture of painting that underlies studio practice. With wide-ranging topics from the spiritual nature of April Gornik‘s radiant paintings to the metaphors between painting and writing, Butler is not afraid to look at commonplace ideas in contemporary art from a fresh angle that is not obvious on first sight.

Also Butler is a very poetic abstract painter whose work focuses on the overall architecture of industrial structures and urban planning as well as collages on paper and a digital project involving the novel Moby Dick. With a palette of sometimes striking and sometimes subtle colors, her artwork becomes infused by a sense of wonder at these strange landscapes of metal and other man-made materials or fake suburbs within mostly triangular forms similar to the work of Dannielle Tegeder. She transmutes what one often takes for granted and redirects this hardworking energy of humanity into tangible compositions that our eyes cannot escape without thoughtfulness. Industry is seen as a celebratory force instead of a plaguing menace.

Finally, she works as an associate professor in the department of Eastern Connecticut State University helping out art students to understand the interdiscliplinary approach which is the skeleton of contemporary art, particularly with new media and video art. This profound conjunction among various subjects that get incorporated into art such as economics or science has increased our visual vocabulary even in the most conservative of media, painting and sculpture. And Butler being both a painter and blogger has this clear desire to show that art and digital technology can go hand in hand very beautifully.

If you have any questions about Butler’s artwork or the classes which she teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University, feel free to contact the artist/professor at or or at (860) 465-4345. If you have any questions regarding the “Two Coast of Paint” blog, please contact Butler at

Finally here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s revealed details of the “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts (either from your childhood or adulthood) that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? How are these incorporated into the ideas for your work?

Sharon Butler: The most influential book I read as a child was Make Something From Nothing by Frank B. Griffith and Rubye Mae Griffith. The Griffiths, determined never to throw anything away, turned each useless household object into some other (usually hideous) thing. For instance, they would stick a  few cow ribs into modeling clay and turn them into a (very abstract) dinosaur sculpture. Or turn a dog-food box into a lingerie hamper.   Through the Griffiths’ wacky projects, which valued transformation over decorative appeal or craftsmanship, I learned to think creatively.

qi peng: Have you been recently during the past few months to any galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What elements within those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes? Considering that there are so many shows to look over, how do you decide which ones are worth reviewing and analyzing in your columns for The Brooklyn Rail and/or blog?

Sharon Butler: I usually write about shows that touch on issues I’m currently addressing in my own work. That way, the essays are a little like artist statements or manifestos. I never write about excessively didactic, over-determined projects that discourage viewer interpretation. The most recent big show I’ve seen is the James Ensor show at MoMA, which, despite its rough edges, I’d highly recommend. I first saw Ensor’s  paintings in Brussels two years ago and was delighted when MoMA announced the retrospective.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New York City or Eastern Connecticut where you teach classes at or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Sharon Butler: Because I love thought provoking films, I’m a fan of arthouse cinema, like the Landmark Sunshine and the IFC in New York, and the Olde Mistick Village Cinema in Connecticut.

qi peng: In your assessment, how do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists and curators will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects and exhibitions than the overly commercial work that was typically geared for the art fairs during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?

Sharon Butler: I’m glad to see that the government is increasing arts funding—too bad it took such a backbreaking recession for politicians to acknowledge how important the arts and artists are to the social fabric of our communities. In the next few years, plenty of younger artists, depressed by their dire financial circumstances, will undoubtedly head for law school and MBA programs. Those who maintain their commitment to making art will realize that the game has changed. Fewer traditional exhibition opportunities will mean that the smart artists will begin creating their own. Community builders and multitaskers will continue to thrive.

qi peng: Also, do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform your ideas and your writings? Based your personal interests, are your art blogging for Two Coats of Paint, your studio practice, your columns for The Brooklyn Rail, and your teaching at Eastern Connecticut State University reflective of those hobbies you engage in?

Sharon Butler: I don’t have any hobbies unless watching TV is considered a hobby. I love good TV. Currently my favorite shows are 30 Rock (who doesn’t love Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy?), Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. My husband introduced me to the world of slickly-packaged crime drama, including CSI, Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Vincent D’Onofrio), and The Wire. I’m still childishly hoping Lisa Kudrow’s brilliant take on celebrity reality TV, The Comeback, reappears. Don’t tell my daughter, but as a kid I used to do all my homework in front of the TV. Now I work on my sketchbooks with the boob-tube on, so, I guess TV could be construed as part of my art practice rather than a hobby.

I live on the shore, but I’m a workaholic, and not especially keen on boats or beach.  Going out on the water lends a new perspective, though, so every now and then I rent a kayak and take a trip down the river. I also like fiction and independent films (see above). A few fiction writers I would recommend are Amy Bloom, T.C. Boyle, Michael Chabon, Edwidge Danticat, and Ann Patchett.

qi peng: Considering that painting in addition to writing and teaching about art is a rather time-consuming activity, how do you manage to balance a social life with your professional involvement in visual arts? What have been the most exciting moments that you have experience with your paintings, teaching classes, and art criticism?

Sharon Butler: I don’t have much extra time in any given week, although now that it’s summer and classes are out, I feel less pressure. I used to think I needed to narrow my focus, but I now consider that an old-fashioned imperative that might artificially induce me to give up or overlook rich and valuable material. I admit that when I’m pressed for time, social interaction is the first thing that gets curtailed.

qi peng: How do you think that traditional print art criticism, say Holland Cotter or Roberta Smith for the New York Times, differs from art blogging, such as Art Fag City or your blog? Do you feel like you have the ability to be more forthcoming because of the lack of vested corporate interests and art world politics? Additionally, do you feel that galleries have too much leverage on what art critics can say? Also what do you think is the politics of art criticism?

Sharon Butler: Because we don’t have editors, bloggers occasionally make posts that aren’t especially politic or well-considered in a scholarly sense, but that’s what makes blogs interesting and provocative. With professional critics, unless you’re an insider, it’s hard to discern the politics in play. Regular blog readers, on the other hand, expect a point of view. Most bloggers are communitarians at heart, but we still have feuds and pet peeves (remember the bloggers’ reaction to 303 Gallery’s ban on photography?) that we don’t bother trying to hide.

qi peng: What is the methodology behind your oil paintings and works on paper from start to finish, from preparatory studies to the completed work? What types of materials and equipment do you use to create your final artwork? How do you determine the overall composition that will go into a particular painting? Also what is an average day like within your studio? Do you use assistants and if so, how are they incorporated into your studio practice?

Sharon Butler: I develop work in several different media—primarily sketchbooks, writing, digital, painting, and combinations of all four. Deciding what, exactly, to paint is the biggest part of my process, and I’ll spend months intuitively circling around different ideas and imagery before trying to articulate (to myself or others) exactly what I’m doing. My approach is indirect because I’m not sure what’s on my mind until I make something that tells me. That may sound strange from a cognitive perspective, but I’ve read interviews with other artists, Ellsworth Kelly for instance, who work the same way. If I can explain a piece easily, that generally means I’m headed in the wrong direction. I like to let everything float freely for as long as I can, until something emerges that suggests a certain  “it-ness.” At this point, I usually try to write about what I’m doing. If the work doesn’t lend itself to written exploration, I might well drop the idea because it lacks the richness I’m looking for. Once a series is underway conceptually, I take my mind out of the process and become swept up in the aesthetic choices: color, line, shape, and so forth. I know it’s time to start the process again when it becomes too easy, or I’m bored. Although galleries don’t always encourage change, I think it’s important that artists keep moving in new directions rather than lock into a comfortable signature style.

qi peng: How does Twittering differ from blogging? Do you feel that Twitter can allow for pithy, instant thoughts and blogging for more developed essays? How does Twitter and Facebook allow you to communicate with artists, art professionals, and organizations? What direction do you see art and online social networking working hand in hand?

Sharon Butler: Maintaining Two Coats of Paint is like curating an ever-changing exhibition of “the art of my time,” and I consider it an integral part of my art practice. Using Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, are good ways to stay in touch with the community. I’m not the type of Twitterer who posts, say, 140-character haiku, or creates conceptual social networking projects, although I’m interested in artists who do. I prefer to use the social networking sites as personal news feeds that give my favorite exhibitions, galleries, museums, artists, bloggers, and writers well-deserved attention. As a chronicle of this particular woman’s experience of the art world, I suppose my involvement in social networking, like handwritten slave diaries, bank records, and laundry lists from long ago, might be of historical interest for future generations, but I don’t consider my ongoing participation an art project per se.

qi peng: Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? What things do you like looking when you are at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of artwork does your personal tastes gravitate towards?

Sharon Butler: I’m drawn to work that speaks to my own conceptual and aesthetic concerns. Currently, if I’m in a museum, I look for traditional objects like paintings and thoughtful installations rather than disembodied conceptual projects. Of course several years ago when I was working on video and text-animation projects, I was primarily interested in time-based media and conceptual projects. As my own work evolves, the type of work I want to look at changes.

qi peng: On another light note, do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting?

Sharon Butler: Throughout my twenties I thought cooking was beneath me, but when I got married a few years ago to a man who doesn’t cook, I embraced it as though I was undertaking a major art project. I remember thinking, I’m an intelligent woman—how hard can it be to follow a recipe? I got a big Joy of Cooking cookbook and read through it with gusto. Friends sent their favorite recipes. Currently I gravitate toward what I call the “monomeal”—a meal that has all the food groups in one dish, like shepherd’s pie, curry, or stir-fry.

While doing a residency at Pocket Utopia in July, I fell in love with the toasted sesame bagels with cream cheese at the Archive coffee shop in Bushwick. I also love Middle Eastern food, Peter Luger’s porterhouse, Lupa’s pasta, Resto’s beer list, and malted milk balls from Economy Candy on Rivington & Essex.

qi peng: Within your artwork, you are often inspired by daily observation of particular architectural or industrial forms such as observation towers. How do childhood memories, particularly of your father, inspire the concepts behind many of your paintings? Do you feel an affinity for the work of Brice Marden and Tobi Kahn, both of whom are masters of form, shape, and composition in abstractions?

Sharon Butler: While I was growing up, my father was a Sunday painter. He made copies of work by his favorite artists – Klee, Mondrian, and Picasso – and hung them throughout the house. Surrounded and intrigued by his ersatz masterpieces, I adopted abstraction as my primary visual language. The small size, pictorial language, and handmade quality of my work thus derive from abstract easel paintings from the postwar era. The geometrical structures in my paintings combine architectural form with eccentric perspective and irresolute draftsmanship. Perhaps because I intuitively appreciated abstract painting before I could grasp its intellectual significance, I don’t proceed with any grand aesthetic theory in mind. As I suggested earlier, I simply work until color, shape, and line combine to tell a story that I find satisfying.

The fact is, painting is hard, and artists who wrestle with it deserve admiration. I’m impatient with artists who use painting as a conceptual trope (Karen Kilimnik, Josh Smith, Joe Bradley), and I appreciate artists who sincerely investigate the materiality of paint (Angela Dufresne, Amy Sillman, Thomas Nozkowski, Wendy White, Cordy Ryman, EJ Hauser, Carrie Moyer, etc.) Artists from the older generation, like Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Susan Rothenberg, have drilled down and developed a narrowly defined signature style, but I’m drawn to artists who embrace their aesthetic wanderlust.

qi peng: As an associate professor in the department of Eastern Connecticut State University, what is a typical day at the college like for you? What is a typical day for you while you are teaching classes there? Which classes have you taught and what values and themes have you imparted to your students during these years? What is the thrust of each classes’ syllabus that you design? In what way is teaching a work of art in itself?

Sharon Butler: Although trained as a painter, I teach in the Digital Art & Design program at Eastern. When I started teaching in the mid-nineties, art departments were much less keen on embracing cross-disciplinary practice—either you were an art historian, a painter, or a digital artist. Now the boundaries are much blurrier, which gives me the freedom to paint, write, and pursue digital projects more freely. In all the courses I teach, which have ranged from digital skills, to print design, to video and text animation, to exhibition practice and publicity, I try to teach students that the best art has multiple levels of meaning, or as Roberta Smith has called it, a density of expression. All visual elements convey meaning, and so regardless of the students’ chosen medium, great attention must be paid to each detail.

qi peng: What is your opinion of the art world press? Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world? Do you have any other favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis? Do you feel that places like Salt Lake City or Dallas will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming extremely vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City?

Sharon Butler: Because Two Coats of Paint is a digest of art reviews and commentary published elsewhere, I read quite a bit. In art criticism, the less art jargon the better. I’m not interested in criticism that creates new language to describe the same old art-making practices. When critics are over-reliant on customized language and vocabulary, however clever and innovative it may be, I wonder if future generations will have any idea what they were trying to say.

I subscribe to the usual art magazines, but I also read The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, the New York Times, Cabinet, and other general-interest publications. Three times a week I can be found at the gym, pounding on the elliptical machine, usually reading one of those but – I confess – occasionally catching up on the trashy celebrity magazines. As far as blogs go, check out the link list at Two Coats of Paint. Any comprehensive list of the blogs I read daily would cumbersomely long, but I always check in at Anaba, Art Fag City, C-Monster, Hrag Vartanian, Matthew Langley, Heart As Arena, The Old Gold, AT World, Newsgrist, Olympia’s Musing, Timothy Buckwalter, Visual Discrepancies, Up Down Across, Regina Hackett, Sixteen Miles of String, and Joanne Mattera when new posts are up. Most art news is broken on the blogs, so monthly magazines often seem outdated.

My favorite columns are “The Top Ten” in Art Forum, “Public Eye” in Time Out New York, Dave Hickey’s column in Art in America, and “Art in Review” in the Friday New York Times.

[Note: Butler also reads “all the blogs on the Culture Pundits Network.”]

qi peng: What is the story behind the name of “Two Coats of Paint?” How has your experience in blogging helped you to work at The Brooklyn Rail during 2007? Is there a difference in audience and intent between both types of media? Recently you were involved in exhibition entitled “BlogPix” that was organized and curated by Olympia Lambert, Roberta Fallon & Libby Rosof, Joanne Mattera and Hrag Vartanian for Denise Bibro Fine Art/Platform. What was it like having art bloggers doing the curating rather than gallerists or museum curators? How do you think that blogging intersects with today’s artistic creation?

Sharon Butler: “Two coats of paint” is an idiom that means “close.” As in “They were such good friends, they were like two coats of paint.” I apprehend the world through words as well as images, so for me words and art making go hand in hand. At first, Two Coats was exclusively text. I didn’t start using pictures until quite recently. I started writing articles to attract attention to the blog, and eventually Tom Micchelli, my editor at The Brooklyn Rail, asked me to be a regular contributor. I like the Rail because it’s primarily written and read by artists, and the entire content is posted online.  The generosity of the blogging community is remarkable, and I was honored that Joanne Mattera included my work in the BlogPix show.

qi peng: What are your future projects that you plan to embark on soon? Finally, do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your paintings, art classes, the Two Coats of Paint blog, The Brooklyn Rail writings, and art criticism here?

Sharon Butler: Future projects include a curating stint at Eyebeam’s Add-Art project, participating in Ethan Ham’s “Telephone Game” project, and developing the next Two Coats of Paint ink-on-paper publishing project. At Pocket Utopia this summer, I’ve been working on a new series of sketchbook pages that will be published by 246 Editions next year. As for my painting, I’m developing a new series that integrates human transaction, text, and geometric form.

To all readers out there, I guess I would just encourage everyone to get involved, be generous, and help make the art world a better place.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

August 17, 2009 at 12:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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