Body in Crisis

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Souls Beneath the Sea
Shaman (state III)
human form, decay, series of works, series, spiritual, spirit, soul, Shaman, radial balance, circle, drawings, subconscious mind, chaos, confusion, metaphor, enlightenment, pain, insides,human figure, souls fleeing, human forms, death, bones, skulls, shaman, drawing,

In Shaman (state III) we see various human forms of differing sizes and stages of what appears to be decay.  We recognize these as stages because the artist's choice to include the phrase (state III) in the title suggests that the image is a part of a process. There is further evidence of this when we realize that this work is one work in a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  (state I and state II are not shown here). We can read this process as one of decay, because we can see the bones, muscles, and skulls of the human figures Butler has depicted.

The other component in the work's title, Shaman, tells us that the process depicted is a spiritual one. The shaman is a person with access to the world of spirits and this echoes the other work shown here, titled Souls Beneath the Sea. While the two works may differ greatly in the amounts of  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (  and brightness in each, Souls Beneath the Sea is, like Shaman (state III), a visual depiction of a spiritual process. In this second work, however, the souls appear to be fleeing from a single point, while in Shaman (state III) most of the depicted spirits radiate around a point in a circle.

Butler's drawings are rich with detail, but still manage to feel spontaneous, as though they come from somewhere in his subconscious mind. Furthermore, Butler is showing that even events or things which seem chaotic or confusing can actually help us understand part of what it means to be human.  His figures have their insides exposed, a  metaphorUsed in art as in speech. A term, regularly used for one object, is used for another and suggests a likeness between to the two.  for an experience that is both painful and enlightening.

additional resources Things to Think About Studio Activity
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Draw a dream

Jack Butler’s artworks Shaman and Souls Beneath the Sea seem to depict something that might have come from Butler’s subconscious, or perhaps from a dream. Think about a dream you have had, any dream, and draw a scene from this dream.

  • Try to draw the scene as you remember it. It might be helpful from time to time, while making the drawing, to close your eyes and try very hard to remember what the dream looked like, as well as how it felt and what was happening.

The spirit world

What do you think the spirit world would look like, if you could see it?  Do you have a system of belief that gives you any clues as to how it might look?

  • Write a story or poem or song that uses descriptive words to tell your readers or listeners what they would see if they were able to step into the spirit world you imagine or believe in.
Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning