mute0n (yes, spelled with a zero) embraces a new dimension of art
They could be portraits from another dimension, dreams from the unconscious, or the hallucinations of a shaman—the psychedelic illustrations, paintings and murals of J.W. Butts (a.k.a. mute0n) are clearly the work of a visionary.
His art is defined by bold colors, strong line work and an incredible sense of good taste. The characters and surrounding imagery have an animated style, but the subject matter pushes them into a different realm—as if the cartoons grew up into cubist masterpieces, getting a few tattoos along the way.
The Pulse: How did you get your start?
J.W. Butts: The first time I remember consciously making art was in the blizzard of ‘93. I was 5, staying with my grandparents. My grandmother has always been a creative type, writing and doing pencil drawings of old actresses and actors. She pulled out some pencils, paper and some pictures of Mickey Mouse and Pluto and got me to copy them. Drawing them was my first conscious memory of making art. I owe that to my family.
TP: What is your preferred media?
JWB: I have a few. Definitely acrylic paints, I’ve grown accustomed to and love them. Pen and ink have always been something I’ve been drawn to, as far as getting really detailed. I am always searching for new mediums to develop and work with; recently spray paint is one I’ve learned. I’d like to give some props to Seven, who helped me develop my aerosol skills.
TP: If you could go see the new “Star Wars” movie with some of you favorite artists, who would you choose?
JWB: I think I’d want to hang out with Keith Herring, he would be a funny person to see “Star Wars” with—or Basquiat, because that guy would have some interesting things to say. I would also love to see a movie with Howard Finster.
TP: What inspires the images you create?
JWB: The inspiration to make art in general comes from life experiences, the struggles of life, the beauty in life. I started making art in my early 20s because I was going through a big transformation as a person. I felt out there, alone, maybe a little depressed, and art became an outlet that made me feel good. I never thought it would be something that I could live off of, or make money from professionally, but people were encouraging and nurtured it. The characters come from everyday life, things I see. I’m definitely inspired by all of the art in the world, people I meet—and people I want to meet that I make up in my head.
TP: What do the extra eyes mean?
JWB: I like to think you have your normal eyes that you see everyday life with, that you walk through every day with—and then I think there’s another set, especially as an artist or creative type. In the past years, I’ve really embraced visions, whether it be looking at a wall and thinking of something different, or looking at a blank canvas and already seeing what I want to be there. The eyes represent everybody’s different perspective and vision..
TP: What is the symbolism in your work?
JWB: Some of the symbols have meaning, but I’m not really sure where some of these things are coming from. It’s almost like something I’m revealing to myself as I go, and then I find meaning in it at a later time—it’s a strange manifestation of myself. There’s a crescent moon that I use pretty often. I like to put three on the canvas if I use them, because it represents the past, present and future to me, usually the biggest meaning the future.
TP: How do you paint?
JWB: Firstly, I like to set something up symmetrically, then I put down all of the base colors in the shapes that I need them to be, and then from there I do all of the detail work. I apply it all with a brush, nothing too abstract, just straightforward stuff as far as process..
TP: Do you prefer to work big or small?
JWB: The bigger, the better for me. I want a massive canvas. If I could do a skyscraper, that would be ideal. I recently wrapped a mural up at Humanaut over on East Main, and I’m about to begin one on Glass Street. I’m also working on an installation at The Coin Op.
J.W. Butts’ artwork is currently on display at GranFalloon, Greyfriar’s, Luminara, Mainline Ink and Coin Op. You can visit his online store at squareup.com/store/mute0nart and follow him on Instagram at “mute0n”.
Photo by Jessica Bartet