Critics’ Picks

Luke Butler, Landing Party IV, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 28".

San Francisco

Luke Butler

Jessica Silverman Gallery
488 Ellis Street
March 23–May 5, 2012

Now more than ever, it can seem that media is eternal: Most any film or classic television series will stream dead shows, live, at our summoning, from vast digital archives. Luke Butler’s work is an emphatically analog illustration of mediated mortality and masculinity. In previous works, he’s depicted male crew members from the original Star Trek series in painted film-still moments of struggle and vulnerability—when characters have been felled by nearly lethal rays. In this exhibition, these characters, sharply painted in acrylic, tangle against flat gray backgrounds or, in the case of Landing Party IV (all works 2012), on a stagy lunar landscape: Captain Kirk, in his signature mustard-colored ’60s-style tunic, kneels before a Spock character, sprawled faceup on the ground, dressed in red. Alert viewers will notice that in this near-death moment, Spock’s visage is replaced with an image of the artist’s face. Younger actors, it seems, are perpetually available, as is the show’s fantasy world, which is seemingly eternal.

The show’s largest painting, The End III, is a recurrent image of conclusion, those words emblazoned over crashing surf, as they have been in countless films. There’s a timelessness to the artist’s typography; an uninflected sans serif that reads A LUKE BUTLER PICTURE is a second-line reference to painting as much as auteurship. In this and two other “End” works, the Roman numerals representing specific years from the 1970s are inscribed, marking a golden age of both trashy television, and Conceptual art, in which lines were wryly blurred between reality and representation. Butler changes channel for Gail, in which the Starsky and Hutch duo is configured into a tender, oddly religious pose with a woman in a white nightgown. They form a soft triangle, a human recycling symbol that suggests that even if their narrative is shot through with trauma, they’ll be back.