STORY AND PICTURES BY RICHARD CORNISH
“This could be confronting,” warns Kyneton artist Daniel Butterworth as he moves around the paintings in his studio on the edge of town. He partially reveals a larger than life self-portrait nude. It is a fine representation of the man, painted in broad brush strokes on plywood using acrylic house paint, applied with small domestic cut-in brushes. The colours are muted, a blend of primary colours to create skin tones and a winter-grey sky background. Daniel’s work is very much after Lucian Freud. However, instead of working with muses or studying other people, as Freud did, Daniel is his own model. “Someone once called me an ‘egotistical wanker’ because I mainly paint myself,” he says with a mild sense of chagrin.
Daniel may wear the occasional cheeky grin, but he appears more thoughtful and grounded than self-aggrandising. He grew up on a small farm at Springhill between Kyneton and Daylesford. He started out as a signwriter, applying blue and red cursive script in butchers’ shop windows and lots of gold paint for the fancier businesses. His dad is a sculptor so when the urge came to focus on fine art, it was not unexpected. Daniel studied art at Bendigo TAFE before moving on to Art and Design at LaTrobe University.
“I paint myself because I am always here,” he explains, “And the type of work I am portraying is my personal reaction to difficult situations. I don’t expect a model to show the emotion I am feeling about the issue I am addressing.” With that he moves away so we can see the painting in full. It is Daniel almost pleading to the sky, palms open outwards, where his genitals should be is just a bloody blur. This powerful and disturbing image is part of his next 13 work exhibition called ‘Sorry’. It is his reaction to the treatment of Aboriginal Australians over the past two centuries. Next to it is a pile of Daniel Butterworth bodies thrown one on top of another. A post-massacre pyre. The fact that every lifeless head wears Daniel’s face has a visceral effect. After seeing so many Daniels one becomes familiar with his emotions. To see him dead is shocking.
Beside the ‘Sorry’ series is a larger than life portrait of a very familiar face. The painting of actor Shane Jacobson of Kenny fame bears a concerned frown. “Shane is a lot more than the nice guy people see on screen,” says Daniel. “He is quite a deep person. That’s something I wanted to portray for the Archibald (Prize),” says Daniel. His 2017 entry of another painting of Jacobson went well in the Packing Room Prize but wasn’t shortlisted, unlike his 2016 entry depicting Trentham chef Annie Smithers. “She has it hanging in her dining room (at du Fermier),” says Daniel. “She said it would be too much to have herself hanging in her home.”
The ‘Sorry’ exhibition moves to Sydney’s 541 Art Space in June. LOST locals will have a chance to see it on Saturday March 17 from 2pm in Daniel’s Studio at 53 Hill Drive, Kyneton or head and see a much larger collection of his work at the Farmers Arms Art Motel, 2 East St Daylesford.