Karen Brussat Butler has been making prints for over twenty years. She is also a painter who works exclusively on paper and has been doing so for over fifty years. She has received several purchase awards including the Henry Ward Ranger Purchase Award from the National Academy of Design in New York City. Her work is represented in numerous museums and public collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Art Affecting Life/ Life Affecting Art
SLIDE 1. (ART AFFECTING LIFE/LIFE AFFECTING ART/
KAREN BRUSSAT BUTLER/CONNECTICUT, USA)
Thank you for inviting me to come and be a part of the Qijiang International Print Festival. I’m honored to be here.
For the last few years I’ve been working to complete a limited edition book inspired by ancient Chinese poetry.
This image was inspired by the poem:
Reverence-Pavilion Mountain, Sitting Alone
By Li Po (702-763 C. E.)
Birds have vanished into deep skies.
A last cloud drifts away, all idleness.
Inexhaustible, this mountain and I
gaze at each other, it alone remains
Translated by David Hinton
The Chinese poetry project began as an outgrowth of my first artist’s book
that I started after a tragic event happened in our family.
SLIDE 2. (BRIDGE OF ANGELS, WATERCOLOR 41” X 26”)
I can’t imagine my life without a brush or drawing tool in my hand and
being able to create.
In watercolor and lithography I make images that tell a story. This helps me make sense of what is happening around me.
I painted Bridge of Angels in 2001 after the accidental death of my eleven-year-old granddaughter, Tessa.
SLIDE 3. (MOUMTAIN OF MEMORIES, LITHOGRAPH 19” X 15”)
It wasn’t long after, that 9/11 happened and the whole country joined me in my mourning.
SLIDE 4. (GLIMPSE, LITHOGRAPH 19” X 15”0
Tessa was the first and, at that time, the only child of her generation in our family that included 3 grandparents, 1 great uncle, 3 great aunts, 1 uncle and aunt and six cousins. She occupied a very special place in our extended family and her death created a huge hole in our lives.
I found myself writing poetry.
SLIDE 5. (SWIRLIN, LITHOGRAPH 19” X 15”)
Young girls swirling
In dark velvet dresses
Moving the music in the air
Around the dance floor
Float in rhythm
Celebrating the night
Young girls laughter
Woven in music
With closed eyes
SLIDE 6. (TESSA PORTFOLIO, 15 LITHOGRAPHS AND POEMS)
SLIDE 7. (LITTLE BOOK)
In 2003 I came across a book of Chinese love poems that I’d given to my college sweetheart, now my husband, Jeff, in 1964. Along with our sorrow about losing Tessa was how hard it was now for our daughter, Elizabeth, to continue without her. I had no helpful words.
In that little book I found a poem entitled Message from Afar,
With the words that I thought could have come from Tessa:
Cherish thyself for meThink of me always SLIDE 8. (MESSAGE FROM AFAR, LITHOGRAPH 19” X15”)
I was amazed that a poem, written so simply and from so long ago, had the words that spoke to me.
I created this lithograph for that poem.
SLIDE 9. (THE LOST FLUTE, LITHOGRAPH, 19” X15”)
I have always appreciated the beauty of Chinese calligraphy with its strong and fluid marks. When drawing the lithographs I tried to capture the flowing brushwork you see in Chinese characters.
SLIDE 10. (A RIVER LONG LOVE, LITHOGRAPGH 19” X 15”)
I chose a few more poems. Some were about separation and loss.
Others were about being one with nature.
A River Long Love
By Li Chinh-Yi (960-1280)
(See the translation page for the poem in original Chinese)
I live at the upper end of the river
And at the lower end live you:
Everyday I long to see you but cannot,
Though from the same river we drink.
When will the same river go dry?
When can my sorrow come to an end?
Only may your heart be like mine,
My love for you will be in vain
Translated by Ch’u Ta Kao.
Translated by Chu’U Ta Kao
SLIDE 11: (DWELLING IN THE MOUNTAINS. LITHOGRAPH 19”X 15”)
Dwelling In The Mountains
By Hsich Ling-Yun (385-433 C. E.)
Here where I live,
lakes on the left, rivers on the right,
you leave islands, follow shores back
to mountains out front, ridges behind.
Looming east and toppling aside west,
they harbor ebb and flow of breath,
arch across and snake beyond, devious
churning and rolling into distances.
Translated by David Hinton
SLIDE 12. (LIVING IDLE, LITHOGRAPH 28” X 22”)
This image I created for a poem titled Living Idle. It is about the poet being totally content in his waterside home.
SLIDE 13. (DRINKING ALONE BENEATH THE MOON, LITHOGRAPH 28” X 22”)
As this project continued I added poems that made me smile
Initially a few of these lithographs were included in exhibitions of my work. Later, someone suggested I consider expanding the body of the work into an artist’s book of Chinese poetry. It seemed a natural progression.
We would print the poems in English translations just as we did in the Tessa book but thought is was important to include the poems in their original Chinese calligraphy.
The calligraphy that you have been seeing was done by a man that became involved in the project through a surprising series of circumstanced too complicated to explain in this short presentation. We had the good luck to meet Song Xi, a wonderful young woman from Beijing, whose father, Song Laiqi, is a calligrapher. As it turned out he was a board member of the “Chinese Traditional Chinese Painter Association” and he agreed to collaborate with us on this book. He chose the different styles of characters, to go with the different prints.
SLIDE 15. (THROUGH THE MIST/ TITLE OF CHINESE POEtTRY BOOK)
A year later we had nine beautiful painted poems and a title page, “Through The Mist.” The calligraphy was subsequently used to make plates for printing on a letterpress. We hope to have this project completed next year. We will have 20 portfolio books in the edition.
SLIDE 16. (COLLABORATORS: Karen Brussat Butler, artist, printer/ Jim Reed, Master Printer/ Elizabeth Butler, daughter, typesetter, advisor/ Chris Kim, printer of poems on a Vandercook Press/ SongXi, friend and daughter / Song Laiq/ Calligrapher
This project is a true collaboration of many people, some of whom are included in this group of photographs.. Also I am most thankful to the ancient Chinese poets who created these poems; the many people who were involved in passing them on from generation to generation; and the translators who allowed those of other languages to experience these wonderful poems.
SLIDE 17. (MESSAGE FROM AFAR, WATERCOLOR 30” X 30”
Never did I think back when I bought the little book, Chinese Love Poems that all these years later it would be the beginning of such an important journey for me. And never would I have thought that I would be visiting the very part of China where those poets lived and wrote.
SLIDE 18. (MOCKING MYSELF FOR PLANTING TREES, LITHOGRAPH 19” X15”)
The poem I selected for the end of my book is by a relatively modern Chinese poet; Yuan Mei who lived from 1716 through 1798. The title is
Mocking Myself For Planting Trees
At Seventy I still plant trees,
But don’t take me for an idiot.
Though death has always been inevitable,
I don’t know the date!
Translated by Tony Barnstone
SLIDE 19. (SELF PORTRAIT/ LITHOGRAPH 30” X 22”)
For me the Tessa Portfolio and this new project Through The Mist are good examples of how art affects life and life effects art. This self-portrait lithograph, created three years ago, embraces those thoughts.