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Arthur P. Butler, Artist

No one is as openly, enthusiastically, and excitedly in love with their craft as Arthur P. Butler.

By Kevin Somers
Published April 08, 2010

Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson is also the publisher of The Women's Post. For years, Sarah was my editor. She sometimes asked me to write about things I knew little about, but I rarely say no.

Sarah wanted me to write about art, so, once a month, for three years, I had to produce 800 words. To put 800 out, I had to take 800,000 in. It was a learning experience unlike any other as I spent night after night looking, reading, writing, thinking, writing, editing, thinking, asking ... art.

First of all, I had to determine what art is and who is an artist.

I eventually realized there's an art to everything and I've been fortunate to have met some of Hamilton and Canada's finest artists.

Brian McHattie, for example, is our city councillor for Ward 1 and interviewing him was like having tea with Gandhi. Power corrupts, but not absolutely.

I think Peterborough's Ellen Cowie is destined to be big. I saw one of her paintings and "had to meet her." Ellen obliged and she is as wonderful as her work.

Fred Eaglesmith is a very fine songwriter. The list of artists who've recorded Fred songs is long and impressive.

Bob Bratina has been a radio host for more than 30 years. He plays several instruments, fronts bands, knows everyone, and is also a city councillor.

Lawrence Hill is a recipient of the Commonwealth Writers' Award for Fiction. His novel, The Book of Negroes, deserves all its acclaim, fortune, and fame.

Arnold Jacobs, of Six Nations, is a magnificent painter and he was a delightful host. "Wolf Clan Spirit" hangs prominently in our house.

David Samplonius makes unbelievable furniture very well.

There's a longer list of dead artists I scrutinized. Eventually I realized, regardless of discipline, artists love their work and dedicate themselves to it. No one talked about fame, money, or success. Without exception, everyone I met was more animated talking about craft than self.

A glaring example was architect Rick Lintack. Rick is patently stoic until you ask him about buildings.

Then, from Bill Bixby, the Incredible Hulk emerges and he's mad about architecture.

Art in his DNA

Armed with this experience, I thought I knew what to expect when I sat down with Arthur P. Butler, painter. I was wrong.

No one I'd met was as openly, enthusiastically, and excitedly in love with their craft. Nobody paced, and talked, and gesticulated like Arthur when he talked about painting.

Arthur's art is in his DNA, his genes, his lineage, his blood, his makeup. His father and grandfather were painters, as were two uncles and a brother. Arthur and his family are specialists in painting decorative plaster moulding.

As a boy, Arthur would beg of school to paint with his father. Holidays were spent soaking up the skills of his family's craft. At 16, Arthur left school and took a six-year apprenticeship with his father.

For the next 23 years, Arthur beautified Ireland, happily carrying on the family tradition. Then, quite unpredictably, he fell in love, married Sharon, and moved to Hamilton, where he's been for 12 years.

Arthur said good-bye to years, decades, and generations of clients and came here with rare skill and determination.

Ornate Work

He invited me to his home where there were several display pieces of moulded plaster laid out. On close examination, I was struck by the amount of work and detail that goes into each one. The finished product takes several coats of intricate painting done in a pattern that's repeated over and over.

Arthur does "straight" painting, as well, but it's the ornate work that makes his heart race. "I love going into a room and changing it. Even more, I love watching people's reaction when they see it."

We looked at before and after pictures of his work and I see the world differently now. Decorative moulding is common in Canada, but 99.9% of the time, its painted white and forgotten. I realise putting it up is only half the job. Arthur's subtle, deft touch completes a room, beautifully.

Arthur works to blend the moulding and ceiling into the room's atmosphere. He has no interest in standing out and spat out the word "gaudy" several times. "Never gaudy. Never gaudy."

Strict Code

Not surprisingly, Arthur adheres to a strict code that's been passed through his family. He does all his own work and never sprays. He does one job at a time, from start to finish. He only uses Farrow and Ball paint, imported from England. His brushes are also imported from Europe and they're discarded when no longer pristine.

Arthur considers it an honour and privilege to be in another's home or office, so he never discusses clients. If the request or colour scheme is sufficiently disagreeable, he won't take the job. He won't paint cornice white, either. If there's a problem, "You fix it."

"There were lots of rules," he said, smiling and thinking about his father. It's obvious Arthur is a sincere man of old-world values, who comes by them honestly.

We went around Arthur's house and he explained how colours and painting techniques helped create a specific atmosphere within each room. The cutting, where two colours meet, looked as though a laser had done it. Wow.

Absorption

Arthur's ultimate objective is to please the client and he works with them to determine to the room's role and desired ambience. He looks at floors, walls, and accessories. "I close my eyes and I start to see it." Then he goes to work until it's finished.

Like Michelangelo, Arthur can spend hours working intricately on a ceiling. "It's such a buzz. Hours go by and I don't even realize it, I'm so lost in the work."

His absorption makes for a fine final product. "The entire time you're working, it's on your mind. You keep playing with it. The room talks to you while you're having lunch and looking at it. Then it happens and you know it's perfect. Perfect." He smiled.

If you're looking for an artist, Arthur's your man.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 08, 2010 at 11:48:45

Kevin, you've captured the essence of Hamilton, where it is not uncommon to happen upon some regular looking, unpretentious folk who harbor enormous talent. Well done.

Comment edited by Ted Mitchell on 2010-04-08 10:49:12

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By kevin (registered) | Posted April 17, 2010 at 09:23:05

Thanks, Ted. Arthur and Sharon came by for tea last weekend. He really is a swell guy. If you know anyone looking for a good painter....

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