By Jayme Eng / Photography by Tracey Frugoli
From the beginning, William Butler, Executive Director of the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria knew he was going to be an artist.
William grew up in Bartonville, Illinois and even at the young age of six he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I told my dad, ‘I want to be an artist.’” His family wasn’t surprised since William and several friends would draw whenever they had the chance, especially during the summer.
His dad had once told him that he should be a commercial artist “which I had no idea what that was because I was only six,” William said with a laugh. During college he attended Illinois Central College to study Illustrating and Graphic Design before going to Northern Illinois University. After graduating in 1986, William worked in Chicago for eight years as a graphic designer and illustrator.
In 1994, William came to Peoria. When he began looking for a studio space, he found one he could rent at the Contemporary Arts Center in 1996. During that time, the group was just starting out and wasn’t always well organized to handle some of the routine tasks. “I noticed the trash wasn’t being taken out,” he recalled.
The director at the time had offered him lower rent in return for mundane tasks he performed throughout the Center, and eventually the work offset nearly all of the rent. “Pretty soon I became the man who knew too much,” he laughed. Today, William is in his tenth year as Executive Director of the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria.
One of his biggest challenges is finding time for both work and art. “Usually artists need to have another job besides their art and it’s difficult to learn how to balance both.” And, according to William, a serious artist has to leave some things out to be an artist. “You almost have to hone life to fit art and sometimes you regret the things you leave out to make art work.”
William describes art as a “compulsion, something I have to do,” and he believes that it definitely can have its ups and downs, such as finding his own personal style. During his time in Chicago, he painted watercolors emulating the style of Andrew Wyeth and sold his watercolors at art fairs throughout the Midwest. From there, he did hand-painted linoleum relief prints. “I focused on heavy line work and a flat type of art”
Today, William says he has strayed from this very flat style. “Now my works have some shading in them. They still have a lot of line work, but they’re becoming more three-dimensional.” For influences, William used to look at comic book art as a child and Andrew Wyeth heavily as he got older, but now he also uses influences from Elizabeth Murray with her flat and colorful style. “She has influenced me to work on multiple pieces that link together.”
William doesn’t want to merely copy the artists however, and is currently trying to avoid looking at a lot of artists. “It’s very hard to look at someone’s artwork that you like and try to make it your own.” To help him with this, William looks at the aspects of the art that he likes. “I try to think, why do I like this piece? And when I find it, I try to emulate what I liked and not the artist’s work itself.”
William mostly uses acrylics, a medium he says is very convenient because of its fast drying capabilities when comparing to other paint, such as oils. While remaining predominantly with acrylics, William has also experimented with all different sorts of mediums, such as watercolors and oil paint.
While it’s not hard for influences to come his way, William has a unique method of completing his art. When asked how long each piece typically takes, he responded, “I honestly don’t know. I like to work on multiple things at once, each at different stages of completion so I don’t pay attention to how long it takes.” According to William, he dislikes being in a position where he has completed something and not having anything to work on still, so he tends to avoid that by having multiple pieces at once.
Like previously, William still participates in galleries, around two or three galleries a year. In the fall, William and another artist, John Selburg, will be showing their work in Galesburg Civic Art Center this fall.
For more information about William Butler, visit his website at www.williambutlerartist.com and his profile page at www.peoriacac.org. For more information about the Contemporary Art Center, visit www.peoriacac.org.