A Samuel Butnik Retrospective Debuts at the Galleries at CSU

As students at Cleveland State University (CSU) return to classes this fall, the Galleries at CSU open with Unending Journeys: Works by Samuel Butnik (1920-2004), a special collaborative exhibition between CSU, ARTneo and the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve (AAWR). The exhibition includes works from both ARTneo and AAWR’s permanent collections.

“Samuel Butnik may be the greatest artist from Cleveland who most people have never heard of,” says CSU gallery director Robert Thurmer. “Now is the time to reconsider the art of Samuel Butnik. This exhibition is long overdue. The Galleries at CSU are honored to present these paintings to celebrate the work of an artist that earns our attention, deserves the consideration of Art History, and merits the notice of the next generation of painters who will learn much by studying this exceptional Cleveland artist.”

Unending Journeys is co-curated by ARTneo’s and Collections Manager and Curator Christopher Richards and AAWR Executive Director Mindy Tousley. The exhibition opens with a free, public reception from 5 to 8 p.m this Thursday, but stop by at 4 p.m. for a special gallery talk with Richards and Tousley (also free and open to all).

"Samuel Butnik was a prolific painter who was constantly inspired by color and travel,” says Richards. “Both the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve and ARTneo have large holdings of Butnik's works, making the collaboration on this exhibition quintessential to presenting a comprehensive retrospective."

Butnik graduated from Cleveland Institute of Art in 1947, and lived in Taos, New Mexico, New York City, Providence, England, France, Greece and Spain, before settling down in Oberlin. Typically, most artists develop a trademark style they become known for thorough their career. Some artists experiment with different media or styles, but few become known for the shifting styles throughout their career.

“Butnik reduced his painting down to archetypal geometric shapes in order to play up his love of color,” explains Tousley. “This masterful use of color is the thread that is found throughout the different distinct styles of abstraction that he worked in from the 1960’s until his death in 2004.”

Throughout his career, Butnik’s work progressed more and more towards abstraction. Using the landscape as his muse, Butnik continuously sought to evoke an emotional response from his audience. Butnik’s work referenced physical journeys, as well as transcendental experiences and psychological explorations. In this way, his journey towards abstraction is a natural evolutionary path.

“Inspired by his many travels in the Southwestern United States and Europe, Butnik used the genre of the landscape as a vehicle to translate his experiences into insightful visual statements of great pictorial power,”adds Thurmer. “Butnik began to abstract ‘pictures’ into ‘visual ideas’ in order to distill the character and meaning of the visual world.”

In addition to ARTneo and AAWR, his work is included in the permanent collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Akron Art Museum, Allen Memorial Art Museum of Oberlin College, Ashland University, Bowdoin College, Providence College, Alcan Aluminum Corporation, National Steel and Copper, T.R.W. Corporation and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Missouri.

Despite his prolific career, Butnik hasn’t received the same notoriety as his peers.

“Butnik was obviously also influenced by his contact with other abstract geometric Cleveland artists, such as David Davis, who were known to each other and often exhibited together at the same time,” says Tousley. “Of these artists, those who are still living, Julian Stanczak, John Pearson and Ed Mieckowski, have recently seen a national resurgence in their careers and so this exhibition of Butnik’s work is timely in reference to current art market trends.”

Unending Journeys remains on view through Oct. 3 at the Galleries at CSU. Additional viewing hours are Mondays and Tuesdays by appointment, Wednesdays and Thursdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays noon to 8 p.m.

Additionally, CSU’s South Gallery hosts Andean Spirit: Past and Present, showcasing paintings by Ana Maria Pizarro, a Peruvian artist and advocate for the rights of indigenous people. Her work explores and comments on themes revolving around ancient Andean culture and its relation to modern Peruvian society. Andean Spirit is presented by CSU’s Latinos Unidos. On Friday, Aug. 28, the gallery will host a free public reception for Andean Spirit, and Pizarro will speak during a gallery talk at 6:30 p.m. Andean Spirit also remains on view through Oct. 3 during regular gallery hours.

(The Galleries at CSU) 1307 Euclid Ave., 216-687-2103, csuohio.edu/artgallery

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