In centuries past, artists and jewelers were often one and the same. The lapis-inlaid funerary mask of Tutankhamun, dazzling adornments of Native Americans, and the masterpieces of Renaissance goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini and Russian egg-meister Carl Fabergé have traveled across time, weaving glittering narratives of our entwined aesthetic and anthropological history.
England's Damien Hirst, "the world's richest living artist," followed that lineage, most notably with his infamous diamond-studded skull sculpture, For the Love of God. That piece, impossibly gaudy but also poignant, none too subtly linked the human lusts for bling and immortality. Here in Portland, artist Jeffrey Butters walks a similar line between the lapidary and the painterly in his gold-flecked, gem-spangled exhibition, The Reactions. Butters began each of these paintings by sprinkling, hurling and blowing 24-karat gold dust and a variety of precious and semi-precious minerals onto a bed of wet gesso. Once the powdery goo dried, he responded to the random patterns he'd created by overlaying layers of oil paint until they welled and crested in waves of luxuriant impasto.
With their craters and pools of color, the compositions have a topographical feel; Venetian Reaction looks like an aerial view of Lake Powell. When you look at the pieces from a distance, your eyes read them as rectangles of pure color: chartreuse in Leming Green Reaction, violet in Manganese Light Reaction, lemon tones in Petite Cadmium Reaction Yellow I. Closer up, you notice the interplay between the tacky-textured materiality of the paint and the gleaming gold beneath. It's an effect somewhere between abstract expressionism and hard-edged color-field painting—as if Jules Olitski and Ellsworth Kelly had hooked up in some wild, late-1960s orgy and conceived a gilded love child.
Butters rarely exhibits in the gallery run by his family; this is only his second solo show there in more than 25 years. His last exhibition, Nuance (2009), was tamer. The new work dispenses with subtlety and goes for broke, immersing viewers in rich saturation, surfaces that are sensual verging on sexual, and the flash of auric excess. In The Reactions, Jeffrey Butters gets to have his cake and fuck it, too.
SEE IT: The Reactions is at Butters Gallery, 520 NW Davis St., second floor, 248-9378. Through Aug. 2.