In his second solo show at Wynwood’s Waltman Ortega Fine Art Gallery, “painter who sings” Richard Butler presents a “melancholy” group of intimate portraits that haunt and linger.
As the lead singer for The Psychedelic Furs, he has created a moody, edgy goth-pop soundtrack for decades, is on tour in Florida and will be releasing the band’s first new music since 1991 this spring.
The art exhibit is called “The Amnesiac Hostess” and features portraits on heavy black backgrounds, the faces of the women – and it’s all women – obscured by blurs and smudges and fractured patterns. As if in a dream, this cipher hosting the show seems to have forgotten her own visage.
With a serious background in art studies, the British born Butler attended Epsom School of Art & Design in London and has been exhibiting in New York – he lives upstate – and Miami since 2006.
“There was no specific idea for this particular show, rather it is a snapshot of an ongoing portrait series that has been developing over many years,” Butler said in an email. “The portraits in the show are ambiguous in a sense that, while based upon images of a particular person, that identity is usually distorted and disguised, rendering the figures almost, but not quite, recognizable. The show’s title alludes to this.”
Butler bases “ninety percent” of his portraits on his daughter, a dark-haired beauty who seems to bring out the storyteller seeker in her father, who titles the paintings “confessionalsinner”, “devilsbreath”, and “yourheroestoowillbeforgotten”.
“The paintings are pre-planned from photographs, usually multiple photographs of a person. Which are then collaged and distorted,” he says. “These are used as the starting point for the paintings. The action of moving paint and possibilities intrinsic to the painting then take over.”
Psychological and eerily beautiful, the relatively small portraits sit in suspended animation, lost in reverie. The work has a deft, brushy quality with some startling marks of the artist’s fingers touching, stroking, and caressing the surface. Would the figure welcome or recoil from the artist’s touch? That one element brings these macabre works into another realm as the brush creates a distance, then fingerprints crash the veil. They may be considered a female counterpoint to the dark self- portraits of Brit Francis Bacon.
The Psychedelic Furs have been part of the musical landscape since the late 70s, blasting out of London with their slinky trance dance goth rock that slides along with saxophone and synthesizer. Inspired by the Velvet Underground and David Bowie, Butlers deep-throated vocals, swaggering stage presence, and insanely melodic songs – Love My Way, Pretty in Pink, Heartbreak Beat – propelled them to global MTV video fueled success.
In the early 1980s, I went to a Psychedelic Furs show at an outdoor stage on NYC’s Westside with Joey Ramone. As we sat on the side of the stage, Joey was entranced by Butler and the band’s sophisticated sonic show, a polar opposite from the Ramones short sharp punk odes. Butler swung his hips and hugged his stylish black leather jacket-clad torso, keeping the audience spellbound. Tall, awkward Joey just shook his head like “Man, I could never do that.”
As a performer Butler was a more serious rock god in early videos and shows but has now become more fluid, grinning like a Cheshire cat behind his ever-present shades, holding out his arms to embrace the love.
Recent shows feature Richard and his brother Tim Butler on bass, along with drums, bass, rhythm guitar, a superior sax player in Mars Williams, and a female synth player. The black-clad band plays an almost 2-hour show of their hits, building to a crescendo that keeps audiences swaying under their hypnotic beat. Butler gives his band room to roam, leans into the crowd, wags and points and beckons and takes deep bows at the end of every song. It’s a heartbreak beat and it feels like love.
After almost two decades, the band has released a new single out now, “Don’t Believe”, as a prelude to a forthcoming album, Made of Rain, on May 1. Twelve cuts will make up the final version, the first record under the Furs name since 1991’s World Outside.
The single shows the Furs in fine nihilistic form, with lyrics that reflect the current worldwide state of disbelief.
Money’s got the medicine
You can’t believe in anything
I wanted what I’ve never had
You get it then it’s gone again
You wonder where the weather went
You’re sucking on a cigarette
And hell here comes the rain again
And heaven isn’t heaven sent
I don’t believe
I don’t believe you don’t believe me
I don’t believe
You don’t believe it’s true
As a performer and artist at his synchronistic peak, Butler digs into his own psyche and says “I never really think of my painting and music being connected. If pressed I would say that both share a certain melancholy. You’re doing something until it feels right.”
The Psychedelic Furs appear 7 p.m., April 14th at Revolution Live, 100 Nugent Ave, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Made of Rain is available online for sale and streaming on May 1st, album pre-order and the single “Don’t Believe” available now.
Richard Butler on Art, Music and Melancholy