THE ART, THE MAN: Jeffrey Butters. IMAGE: Christine Taylor

It's hard to believe it took painter Jeffrey Butters 22 years to have a solo show in Portland. After all, he's one of this town's best-known gallery directors; his paintings and prints have been exhibited in group shows since 1993 and have sold (quite well) to collectors across the country. So why the delay?

"I've always tried to keep my painting low-key," he explains, "because I don't want the artists who show with our gallery to think I'm competing with them or trying to hog the spotlight."

Butters has always tiptoed around the line separating his art-making and his day job as creative director of Butters Gallery, the family business he runs jointly with his brother David, sister-in-law Kristina, father Norm and mother Carolyn. As curator and creative director, Jeffrey Butters has been the driving force behind cultivating the gallery's roster of artists from within and outside the Northwest. But now, at age 46, he is finally stepping out from behind the footlights and taking center stage.

His debut solo show is titled Nuances, a word that says a lot about where Butters has been artistically, and where he's headed. In the past, his paintings have abounded with patches of vivid fuchsia, purple, blue and black, sometimes accented with luxuriant sprinklings of gold dust. For years he has created these sumptuous works in a cramped, messy studio in the Goldsmith Building, only a few paces from the gallery. In this sanctuary, the diplomatic Butters, forever attending to the needs of artists and collectors, can let loose and be his own master. Very recently, in late June, he began tweaking his compositions, decentralizing the clusters of color and dispersing his gestures into color fields, reminiscent of the atmosphere at dawn and dusk. These chromatic gradations aren't the only nuances in the work; there are political shadings, too.

"It's a new era," says Butters, a strong Barack Obama supporter. "We have a president who's more nuanced" than the black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us George W. Bush. "In this age, we all need to be more nuanced. So there's some of that idea in the paintings, although they're not specifically political."

Centering a debut show on a brand-new body of work is a risky move, but Butters seems ready for a bold step. After two decades of deference, percolation and growth, this artist is most decidedly ready for his close-up.

GO: Nuances at Butters Gallery, 520 SW Davis St., 2nd floor, 248-9378, Oct. 1-31.

Visual Arts Listings

M.K. Guth

A darling of the 2008 Whitney Biennial in New York City, local girl M.K. Guth presents

Terrain Change,

an installation that asks the question: What would you do if you were a mermaid and you lost your job? Using the mermaid as only one of a plethora of mythological and fairy-tale characters, Guth explores the relationship of profession to identity.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 417 NW 9th Ave., 224-0521, Sept. 3-26.

Word and Image/Word as Image

From the fanciful calligraphy of early Renaissance illuminated manuscripts to the Pop Art mind-teases of Ed Ruscha, the relationship between the written word and the word's appearance as an image has provoked endless discussion. Now, PAM takes up that discussion circa 2009 in

Word and Image/Word as Image,

a fascinating exhibition put together by Annette Dixon, the museum's curator of prints and drawings. With its inspired leaps in time and theme, this is the kind of show that shows a museum's chops.

Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., 226-2811, Aug. 22-Nov. 29.

Donal Mosher

The flourishing nonprofit Disjecta presents a multimedia installation entitled

October Country,

featuring photographs by Donal Mosher. The show also features film and narrative writing and presents a slice-of-life portrait of the artist's multigenerational family. The show is curated by Red 76 founder Sam Gould.

Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave., Sept. 5-Oct. 25.

Tom Cramer

Known for his immaculately carved semi-abstract wood panels, beloved artist Tom Cramer melds painting and sculpture in his solo show with Laura Russo. Cramer is a visionary whose obsessive technique references everything from Wagnerian opera to Eastern philosophy to the 1960s counterculture. With their sinuous contours and intricate coloration, these paintings pique the senses even as they stimulate the imagination.

Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754, Oct. 1-31.