Los Angeles

Reg Butler

Frank Perls

Mr. Butler, 50 year old British sculptor of international reputation, held his first West Coast one-man exhibition during February. 25 sculptures and 6 drawings from 1955 to 1962 provide an accurate cross-section of the sculptor’s recent work when compared with the Speed Museum’s recent retrospective. The sculptures, mostly of the female nude, are worked in a non-sensuous cast bronze medium. Butler appears to be influenced by the lost-wax conceptions of Degas. His figures often strike similar poses and reveal a similar way of seeing. At his best, in works like Girl on a Wheel I, Study for Figure Bending II, 1959, and even the less completely realized Seated Girl, 1959, the artist achieves a setting and scale for the figure in which its torsions and suggestions of movement create a dramatic incident that is both an excuse for sculptural gesture and sculpture itself.

In lesser works, and many of the most ambitious works fall into this category, Butler seems satisfied to deal with the pose and the subject as if it were a formal problem, without establishing a physical tension within the piece. The static caryatid—The Bride, 1954–61—is such a piece. Girl (Chrysanthemum), 1959, is a study-sized work that pointed toward the final conception of The Bride. The articulation of the study’s legs is sufficient to provide a total gesture to the piece that saves it while the 93-inch figure is unredeemed. So many of the works have this deadness that one wonders at the proliferation of such forms in competition with more purposely sculptural works. Girl, 1956, Study for Girl Tying Hair, Study for Circus, and others are problem pieces of a closed formality, without the quality of discovered tension achieved in the Girl on a Wheel.

Two works—Tcheekle/Boite des Fetiches, and Tcheekle/The Macaw’s Head  are ambiguous pieces which fall outside the general statements above. The first is a four-sided, hollow casting within which are figures hanging, which can be seen through window apertures. The second work poses a male figure outside a similar angular construction which reminds one of the Macaw’s Head goal in the pre-Columbian pelote game. Mysterious works of a compelling nature, the Tcheekle sculptures are possibly important and prophetic of the artist’s development. The drawings have a kind of naive, almost “Pop Art” quality that is not endearing. Like the lack of sensuous handling in the bronzes, one feels that Butler misses the real matter of drawing and its freedom. The Figure in Space, 1958–9, relates to a direction in European sculpture nearly ten years old, where such artists as Minguzzi, Armitage and Richier worked with the figure in relation to an arbitrary abstract cage. The suspended figure provides a splendid foil which the sculptor is unprepared to exploit. Butler seems sometimes to be a sculptor in the 19th century sense. At other times he neglects his major talent which includes observation and an obsessive manipulation of deeply felt figurative themes.

Gerald Nordland