The permanency of a tattoo requires commitment. The ink upon your skin is a devotion, one made for the rest of your life, teetering on the edge of a companion. As a creative, having a person paint their body with your work is one of the sincerest forms of flattery, something 22-year-old artist Butler has become somewhat familiar with. It’s a true testament of the beautiful mark he is leaving on the art world, impressive and inspiring, “you have Basquiat, Banksy and now Butler, the next generation.”.
London based photographer Rubee Samuel photographs the fine artist in his own humble space, reminiscing over a childhood that created the modest being he is today. Consistently re-investing in his craft - he is a creator, a thinker, an innovator. A whole life so carefully curated. There isn’t a single thing that is out of place. A simple wardrobe of dull hues sits in the same room as his crisply dressed bed and collection of shelved trainers as the focal point. Disturbingly organised and presented pristinely, even this place is a work of art.
Some of Butler’s most recent pieces predominantly capture the confidence of women while delicately emphasising the delicacy of their femininity. Crying Twin and his sketch series that includes Solo and Figure in the Dark Room are Boys By Girls personal favourites. Musing on the people that he encounters in everyday life, he is not selfish in sharing the beauty of those who surround him in his signature, minimalistic way. He emanates an intriguing and enticing charm. His lips melt across his face into warm expressions and his vision is refreshing. The loyalty of his followers is unsurprising. Nauseated by material wealth, vision and progress are his unequivocal motivators.
Butler’s next solo exhibition will be titled ‘The Space Between Us’ - the date is yet to be confirmed.
At 22, your adolescence is not far behind you. Was being an ‘artist’ always your ambition?
In my Nigerian household, I grew up with a certain mentality: go to school and university, that’s the only way to get a job. My parents wanted me to be an engineer or something, but then I discovered ‘Tumblr’ and I was looking at all these creative people and ingesting all these ideas. I’ve always drawn little sketches, so I always knew I wanted to design. I feel like there is a lot of bullshit out there and I just wanted to create a little bit of calmness, so that was my starting point.
You started out as ‘Design Butler’- a unique name. What inspired that?
Your Instagram handle is now ‘Butler Archive’. Was this change a deliberate rebranding?
It literally means ‘servant of design’. It’s more of an alternative title rather than a name, like graphic designer, or creative director. Anyone could have used it.
It’s just Butler now. I’ve evolved from where I was. I don’t just design anymore, I’ve done clothes, set design, so it occurred to me that ‘Design Butler’ put me in a box. I’m just Butler now, plain and simple. You have Basquiat, Banksy and now Butler, the next generation.
You maintain a prominent social media presence. How did you start out online?
It was an experiment that developed into something more personal, not just for me, but for other people too. My posts started off as just playing around, then became something worthwhile, as my work has positively affected people.
Even now I’m careful: at first it was all new to me so I was very expressive. I’ve since discovered the responsibility of my platform, especially when reaching a young audience.
When did you start freelancing? Has it given you more freedom in some respects?
I’ve always been a freelancer, but only ever for Tinie. I don’t take commissions for drawings: if you like it, you like it, if you don’t, you don’t. I’ve been really lucky in that respect. Most people don’t have that option and they will have to draw family portraits or have sales. I would never discount my work because I see a lot value and a lot of effort in it that I wouldn’t want to compromise.
Who is your favourite artist?
I don’t have one. I have entrepreneurs. Do you know about Elon Musk? He’s the owner of Space X, Tesla and Paypal because he’s a genius. It’s just one dude: he’s amazing.
Your pointillism work is as beautiful as it is intriguing. How long does it typically take to complete a piece in this style?
I was going to do pencil sketches, but everyone does that, so I thought I’d probably make it up of dots and see how it goes. I thought it was either going to be really good or really shit, but I was quite impressed. It takes around eight hours and it’s very painful; my fingers would hurt so badly, which is why I rarely do it.
The female focus of your work implies a strong presence of a ‘muse’. Who is she?
I have multiple muses. Some I know, some are from the Internet, maybe a lady sat across from me on the train. But a single muse in particular? Hell no. That’s selfish; one person can’t dictate the beauty standard for everybody.
You’ve previously said ‘beauty is subjective’. How does this attitude influence your work?
You once said, ‘I draw women like they are now, not how I would want them to be’. Are the women in your art therefore fictional?
I try to represent all kinds of women and not to let my preferences get in the way. I want to be inclusive of everybody because I know that representation does matter. That’s why there is no shade and skin colour in my work; it could literally be anybody. I’m trying to simultaneously express myself yet be inclusive.
No, they are literally photo references. I strip down the images so I’m left with this basic kind of blueprint. But when I’ve finished, I wonder if it would do justice to the original image.
The female body is constantly sexualised, sometimes detrimentally. Your female representations are stripped down and ambiguous, why do you present them in this way?
I try to desexualise women: I think that’s important. I recognise that my work is quite sensitive and people can read the images in different ways. Double standards exist and that has a lot to do with the way we are raised, as boys can express certain sexualities, but that same sexuality can be seen as indecent for girls.
The scope of your career so far begs the question, what’s next?
I’m taking a five year break; I want to go big-scale, but I need capital to form my ideas. Obviously, for a black man in this kind of world, the odds are against you. If I were a white dude with a comb over, it would be way easier, but it’s getting better. If I have to take time to better myself then I’m willing to, I know my work is good so I’m not scared. And besides, everybody loves a comeback.
INTO THE MIST II Drawing by Butler.
Photography by Rubee Samuel.
Interview by Georgia Galea.
Words by Brogan Andersen.