Painter (and Psychedelic Furs frontman) Richard Butler on Warhol, passing ‘the bedroom test” and why his daughter is his muse.
For music fans of a certain age, the band the Psychedelic Furs conjures up images of a poetic insouciance backed up by an acerbic edge. A lot of its personality came from the front man, singer and lyricist Richard Butler. With a voice by turns raspy and romantic and a penchant for the telling line, Butler shaped an identity for the band that persists today, as the group continues to perform after more than thirty years. But like many famous rockers, from Keith Richards and Roger Waters to Tupac Shakur and Lady Gaga, Butler began making music in art school, and art was a passion that never went away. He studied art in the 1970s at the Epsom School of Art and Design in Surrey, England and, influenced by Andy Warhol’s work, concentrated on printmaking. Initial success with the band demanded that his interest in art take a back seat for more than a decade, but he resumed painting in the 1990s and intensified his work after his daughter, Maggie Mozart Butler, was born in 1997. She has become his primary subject. In two recent exhibitions in New York at the Chelsea gallery Freight and Volume (2011 and 2013), Butler has demonstrated a fascination for the portrait, an almost classical restraint in rendering, and a willingness to bend expectations with unsettling motifs, from false noses to rubber Mickey Mouse ears. Butler is that very rare individual who has managed to excel in music and in art. During the run of his most recent exhibition, ahatfulofrain, I asked him about his unusual career and its connections.
Lyle Rexer In the mid-1970s you were just leaving art school. I had spent a year at Oxford at about that time, and I well remember my visits to London, how much they clashed with my wild expectations of “Mods and Rockers.” In reality, England—and London especially—was still a post-war world, with coins for the gas and war widows with their candles in Westminster Abbey. And it was so drab. What was England like for you at that time, when you were just beginning to make music and make art?
Richard Butler It was changing dramatically. Art school was typically hippies when I started. Then the New York Dolls came along, and David Bowie and Roxy Music, and it was a sea change into Glam Rock. I cut my hair and shaved my eyebrows. . .