The following is an interview I conducted a few weeks ago through email with artist, Kathy Butterly. I am endlessly inspired by her work. Butterly is constantly challenging clay as a material to produce vessel based forms which provoke conversation and reflection from the viewer through communicating many messages from materiality and composition to history and current events.
Katie McColgan: The vessel can be a bit limiting in that it has a lot of preconceived notions. How would you say you manipulate the idea of the vessel to live on the cusp of both out of this world yet relatable in reference to the world we know? How do you work with the idea that the vessel desires interaction while utilizing fragility and precariousness?
Kathy Butterly: Well, I think the vessel has historically been used as a stand in for figure, but somehow it goes beyond figure because of the void. The void area adds depth of meaning to the form. Preconceived notion? Yes, but it’s our jobs as artists to break these notions, to either care about them or not and to strengthen or support them or break them, however the artist feels. I don’t feel limited at all with the vessel. As an artist you really can’t worry about fitting in, even if you are using the age old vessel as your form. You need to figure things out for yourself and not worry about where you fit and hopefully you don’t fit and you clear out a new space.
KM: What is it about the vessel that captivates you other than just being a canvas?
KB: Sometimes I don’t have clear answers to things. It’s a form that I gravitate to and a form that I feel I can work both formally and intuitively with. It has meaning for me and is very versatile. It makes sense to me.
KM: You consider yourself a painter who happens to work with clay. Do you think you will be captivated by the properties of clay in your work forever or are there other mediums that you’ve considered as a substitute?
KB: I never say never and if I found something that satisfied my needs the way that clay and glaze does for me then I’d be open. There is so much that I keep finding to be interested in with this medium. I do feel that by ‘limiting' myself to using clay and glaze that I keep pushing the materials and keep finding interesting ways of working and finding new meaning and understanding in its materiality.
KM: Do you utilize the wheel as a tool for creating your forms?
KB: I don’t use the wheel at all.
KM: Do you typically work on more than one piece at a time? If so, do they often become a collection that you’ll show together?
KB: I typically work on 7-10 at a time but currently I am working on 23. I do like to show them all together and rarely show a piece without the others. They have influenced each other and when shown together make a statement or speak about an idea that has developed in their making. A past show ended up being about the weight of color. The next about the quality of line, and the current body is about chaos or chaos meets grace and that makes sense not only with what is going on in this country and world right now but also with what is going on in my studio. Working on 23 at one time is chaotic and a reflection of the outside world. Each piece is unique and each piece demands a different point of view and has specific challenges so it is never dull.
KM: You have a signature that works and it doesn't seem to keep you cornered in a box. How have you navigated this and still remained true to your “style”?
KB: I think some artists think about this but I also think many do not think about this. I don’t think about style at all. I just make what needs to be made. I work intuitively.
KM: For having worked in clay for so long now, do you find yourself experiencing much loss of work due to the unpredictability of the medium or would you say you have a good sense of control over the material?
KB: I don’t really lose work due to technical issues. I lose work if I realize it isn’t clicking with me anymore and I abandon it.
KM: It has recently been suggested to me to create a sort of visual language dictionary regarding my own work as I use many recurring motifs. Would you say that the recurring visual motifs in your work carry the same sort of meanings while moving through each piece such as your use of beads, drips, handles, ruffles, and color combinations or do the meanings behind them vary from piece to piece?
KB: Their use changes. They all serve as problem solvers.
KM: Do you collect anything? If so what do you collect?
KB: I collect color: glazes and pigments. A few questions for you: where did you come across my work? Have you been able to see it in person?
KM: I was actually handed a show catalog of yours maybe 4 or so years ago give or take. This was in my undergrad at MassArt which was right around the time that I was able to see your work at the MFA, I believe. Ever since then, I’ve been following your work closely. Are you going to be attending NCECA this year and will any of your work be there? If not, where will your work be heading to next?
KB: I was just in Boston two days ago...I love Boston. I was in a really interesting show at the ICA Boston a few years back called “Figuring Color”. I was in Boston because my daughter is looking at a few colleges there. I don’t really do NCECA stuff. I try to keep myself more in the art world at large. Nothing against it, just not my thing. I will have a big show in NYC this September at my new gallery, James Cohan Gallery.
Katie McColgan is a Post-Baccalaureate student at the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville. She received her BFA in 2016 from Massachusetts College of Art and Design.