Interview: Tom Butler

Tom Butler

Blurring the lines between realism and impressionism: Dash Majesty delves into the mind of Tom Butler, the collage artist who captures the extraordinary through his mixed media cityscapes.

Dash Majesty: For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you introduce yourself?

Tom Butler: I’m Tom Butler, and I’m a full-time mixed media/collage artist. The main focus of my work is the interpretation of urban landscapes and cities all over the world, that I have either visited or been inspired by.

I sell my original pieces and limited edition prints through MyArtBroker. I’m also part of the prestigious DeMontfort Fine Art Group, who have a huge network of galleries across the UK, which has been great for my work and reputation. Early works can be purchased via my website.

Tom Butler - To Infinity And Beyond
To Infinity And Beyond

DM: Other than London, is there a particular city which you prefer to depict? Could you tell us why?

TB: London as a subject matter for a cityscape artist is a no-brainer – it gets plenty of attention and sells well in the commercial art world. The challenge for me is to find new and exciting ways of depicting our great capital city with its familiar icons, sometimes with an unusual colour palette, light condition or more recently with a smattering of humour. Other well-known cities that appeal, for very different reasons, are New York, Venice, Paris and Havana.

DM: Are there any specific techniques or materials which you would like to experiment with?

TB: Alongside the collage layers, I use acrylics, inks and pen; I suppose the complicated bit is marrying all of these together in a harmonious way, so that the collage effect doesn’t take over too much. It’s a bit like spinning plates – there is constant evaluation and adjustments to be made when producing a piece. I would like to experiment with oils instead of acrylics, as I believe these would give me a greater richness of colour, especially when used translucently. However, there are drawbacks, drying times namely, and I’m not convinced they would work well with all the PVA glue I use!

DM: Do you ever stray away from the urban landscapes you have become known for? Perhaps experimenting with portraiture?

TB: I would like to have a go at some portraiture work using my approach  -having seen some examples of collage portraits by other artists, it looks fascinating. Who knows in the future? First and foremost, I think my strengths as an artist lie in being able to observe rather than invent subject matter. Drawing or painting what I see comes easily, and I have to work a lot harder at doing it in a creative, imaginative way.

Sometimes when you see London or Venice under a beautiful sky, you just want to get on and paint it rather than mess with glue and bits of paper! The words “rod” and “back” spring to mind!

DM: Your use of mixed media is quite striking – when did you start doing this? Could we ask why?

TB: While at university studying General Illustration, I co-wrote and illustrated my first mixed media Horace the Acrobat, which follows a clumsy bat on his maiden voyage into the big bad world.

It’s still something I look back on fondly and proudly. It echoes my own experiences of trying to become a successful artist – picking yourself up from one or two falls and leaving behind the safety of the “Uni-cave”.

The art world, like the music industry, is notoriously hard to break into. Despite having talent, I became a self-employed decorator to make ends meet, creating art in my spare time, more as a hobby than anything else. But I continued to be inspired by things around me – even during my work as a decorator – I remember being interested in the effect of paint layers that had become weathered  – the beauty of the old.

While on holiday in the South of France, I was struck by the beauty of the textured architecture mingled with bright awnings and market stalls in the towns and villages, and the unique Publicites Anciennes, ghost signs, those faded ads which cling on for dear life to the sides of old buildings. Seeing charming French text painted onto the buildings was appealing to me, and the many photos I took would often include a building with text written on it. That’s where it all began, I guess. I set about recreating all of this, using southern France as my subject matter, and the text element had a natural home within the compositions. Of course, my subject matter began to widen to places closer to home, such as London and coastal towns, and I began experimenting with ways of still being able to incorporate text into the composition.

…if there is inspiration to be had then I will keep going!

When I look back at this period, these first mixed media pieces seem quite primitive compared to what I’m achieving now. It has taken many years of experimenting, but I have gradually refined what works and why – but I still have those days where nothing works, the equivalent of writer’s block!

Nevertheless, it remains a hugely exciting way of working, unpredictable at times – anything can happen and usually does! So much of what I do relies on chance – finding the right piece of text or cutting at the right time – or looking for something specific and ending up with something better. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking a magazine cutting out of its original context and placing it within the urban composition to successfully suggest something else.

People love discovering new things in my work – things they missed the first time around. For me, the artwork has to work on two levels: to look like an accomplished and impressive painting from afar, but then also to draw you in for a closer look at the elements used.

DM: You seem to be somewhat influenced by the Impressionists – would you agree with this? Are there any other collectives from whom you draw inspiration?

TB: Like my love for music, my taste in art is equally eclectic. Discovering an artist that captures the essence of a subject matter is a joy. I’m always impressed by an original yet aesthetically pleasing colour scheme too, be it abstract or representational. The Impressionists were pioneers in successfully creating a “sense” of what they were depicting, often with an economy of brushstrokes. Many contemporary artists have inspired me along the way, namely Mike Bernard, Luke Martineau, Ralph Steadman, Jeremy Mann, Tony Allain, and the late Reggie Pedro to name but a few.

Tom Butler - Malecon Sunset, Havana
Malecon Sunset, Havana

DM: Do you often look to music during the beginning of your creative process? Are there any musicians in particular who you are drawn to when you work?

TB: Good music is essential when I am creating in the studio – I have several extensive playlists, depending on what mood I’m in. Most of the music I listen to tends to be under the radar. Again, to name but a few that get the creative juices flowing: Kid Francescoli, The Magic City Hippies, Honne, Leisure, Tender, Bob Moses, Chet Faker – most listened to at the moment is Anderson .Paak. I’m down with the kids.

I also listen to a lot of blues guitar bands and try to emulate them (badly) on my own guitar.

DM: Oh, Anderson is the man! What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist? Did you always have this career in mind?

TB: If I wasn’t an artist – well, if things went pear shaped I could always dust off my painter/decorator tools and get back up that ladder. I’m very fortunate to be making a decent living from what I enjoy doing and getting appreciation along the way!

DM: What does the future look like for you?

TB: I remain quite optimistic about the future, while remembering that the art world can be a fickle place, like fashion – one minute you’re in, the next you’re out. There is certainly no shortage of regions and cities in the world that are on my wishlist to interpret – in that respect, if there is inspiration to be had then I will keep going! I would like to think that the passion and enthusiasm for what I do comes through in the finished piece, something that I hope will always be appreciated.

Tag Tom in pictures of your macaroni collages on Instagram. If he doesn’t acknowledge your genius, write him some poignant poetry on Facebook.