When I start to create a piece, I’m never totally sure how it’s going to go, and nothing is truer than with a New York scene. It is all about being random, expressive and abstract without trying to get a likeness of the place too soon.
New York is a tough cookie to crack in terms of bringing interest without it becoming predictable. Of course, it is inevitable to include its natural vanishing points of never-ending streets that disappear off into the horizon.
Back in the studio I get the tunes on full blast and go wild with big brushes, solid areas of paint, torn newsprint collage and tissue, layers, textures, ink splatters and runs that all underpin the energetic starting point for building a city. New York is full of text high and low, so it lends itself to a multi-layered scene more than any other city. In order to add a deeper connection to the place I use advertising or other paraphernalia that I’ve picked up from the city, my favourite hotels or a bookshop on Lower Broadway (The Strand) that always has old magazines and books. Used bookshops are a great place to get ideas, especially if they sell 70’s or 80’s grainy tourist guides; those are great for cutting out nuggets.
Using acrylics, inks or pastel, pen and charcoal, brushes, and my trusty flat-edged scraper, gradually the city emerges from the (let’s face it) abstract mess I’ve created. The materials have got to be water based and quick drying or it would simply take too long, although I love oils for the intensity and depth they give.
The light in NYC is special on a bright and sunny day where the brightness and glare from the road is dazzling and rebounds off the buildings. It is never dark, even in the autumn and winter when the rain is pounding the streets the constantly changing reflections of the advertising boards glow dramatically amongst the pops of yellow taxis. There is always plenty of colour.
Humour and Abstract Artwork
Over time I have gradually added more word play into my pieces, with a little tongue in cheek, schoolboy humour bringing another dimension to my work. New York’s Times Square (and similarly London’s Piccadilly Circus) have a great energy that easily affords a strategically placed leg, wine bottle or face, haphazardly torn at random from a magazine or newspaper and thrown into the mix.
It has got to happen organically though, or it wouldn’t fit and the more absurd the better. There is nothing worse than a forced smile! I call it creative recycling.
New York and the UK, Worlds Apart
Creating a New York piece versus a London cityscape is so different. Firstly, the scale of New York is just incredible compared with London. It takes a long time to acclimatise to it (with New York, you are very reliant on vertical and straight lines, which is technically demanding in terms of collage and freehand painting) and there’s only time to travel to two or three places in one day.
Secondly, London has a lot more open spaces for which to take in a view (plus you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to iconic places) but in New York you need to get to a park or higher up to see beyond a certain distance.
The New York light produces nice effects around people, like halo glows. In London you just do not get the same brightness.
A typical Tom Butler New York piece usually has a yellow taxi, hot dog seller, brown stone buildings, a few odd bits that are open to interpretation and although I try not to be too political, I have been known to add a bit of Trump!
“It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions but that’s what keeps my enthusiasm buoyant.” Tom Butler
View my New York collection here or send me a comment/question. I like to hear what makes you smile or laugh in my work. And if there is a place you’re looking for, I can help.