Paul Butler has worn many hats in the art world. He has tried his hand at nearly every art-related occupation available to somebody who showed early promise as an artist (in public school he avoided being bullied on account of his flawless drawings of Iron Maiden and Metallica logos, which he was commissioned to draw on skateboards and denim jackets). Lately Butler has narrowed his scope back to just being an artist, and back to the reasons he got into art in the first place. The excitement of working on something feverishly all night and then talking about it to a friend, or the freedom to try something new and fail, have found their way back into his practice. So has the grade-school imagery. In his new series of collages, to be shown at Division Gallery Toronto in May, a heavy metal guitarist shreds against a backdrop of stained glass, and 80s sports cars hover over a tropical beach. References to getting high and drinking alcohol are joined in the series by pink flamingoes, hockey players, and a Duchampian BMX wheel on a white stool.

It has been 20 years since Butler began his Collage Parties, collaborations between the artist and the public in which everyone gets to work making collages with magazines and material provided by Butler. “I like the atmosphere of people around me, almost like art school,” he explains, “it’s my opportunity for growth.” The latest iteration of Collage Party was a month-long undertaking at Project Gallery last February where Butler played host and honed his latest collages. On the horizon is a plan to open a permanent space in Toronto where Collage Party can continue on a regular basis.

Aside from returning to his childhood inspirations of metal, mullets, and hockey, Butler’s new collages touch on larger questions in life. A puff of white smoke on a blue background has the word “Death” adhered to it, and an image of a couple hugging is subtitled with the word “Feelings.” There is no single way to interpret his pairings of text and images, and Butler himself does not dictate their meaning. He has been focused on working intuitively, from the gut. “I’m like a vehicle,” he says, “I try to get out the way.”

As Butler is the conduit for the collective experiences at Collage Party, so too does the collective feed back into his own work. He often ends up using scraps that are created at Collage Parties, finding shapes on the floor he would never think to cut himself. “I’m like a garbage picker,” Butler explains, “I find a scrap and I like it, and I don’t really know why.”

Paul Butler’s new collages will be on view at his next solo exhibition which opens May 17th 2018 at Division Gallery in Toronto.

Written by Anna Kovler

Paul Butler, feelings, 2017. Collage based C-print mounted to aluminum. 16 x 20 in.

Paul Butler, Saint Maurice, 2015-18. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 24 x 30 in.

Paul Butler, MIAMI, 2018. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 24 x 32 in.

Paul Butler, Death, 2017. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 20 x 24 in.