With his soft country accent and straw hat, Butch Anthony comes across like a character from a Flannery O’Connor novel. A self-taught artist from Seale, Ala., Anthony has been a collector of random objects his entire life, and he recently made a career of transforming them into art. Each one of his found-art creations carries a certain quiet Southern Gothic aesthetic that explores the past and identity with thoughtful humor.
Eye Level Art hosts Anthony as part of the ongoing citywide Bluesphere exhibit. In keeping with the expo’s themes of sustainability and conservation, Anthony’s show Museum of Wonder is an amalgamation of found objects, from fine antiques to cast-offs. One half of the exhibit is made up of framed sepia portraits overlaid with white X-ray-type skeletal sketches. Thick lines, rounded figures, and less-than-anatomically correct bone drawings feel more whimsical than grotesque. The framed portraits remind the viewer of something they might find in a dusty basement or rummage sale — and that’s exactly where Anthony finds them. We couldn’t help but wonder about the subject’s past, how or why their portraits ended up in a heap of rubble.
One particularly enthralling portrait is set in a cracked frame. The portrait is the only one in which the subject wears a foil crown, and the juxtaposition of the headpiece and the broken glass is intriguing. “I didn’t know whether I should put that one in the show, because I dropped it,” Anthony says. “Maybe I should go around breaking the other frames.” It’s this sort of self-effacing humor that makes Anthony’s work so endearing.
The remainder of the show is a more eclectic collection of sculptural pieces ranging from bleach-white bones wired together to a hummingbird found in a screen door now preserved under a glass dome. Many skeletal remains are used in Anthony’s pieces, but it’s done in a way that is playfully quaint, not disturbing. One would be proud to have the preserved remains of an opossum on their mantle after Anthony puts his twist on the creature, combining bones with wood, wire, and whatever else was lying around. In another piece, hog wires hold giant globes of Alabama license plates together, suspended from the ceiling.
Ship-like structures are set up outside of the gallery. Made of white spray-painted metal, the sculptures are slightly rusting under the paint. A precious preservation of the past, they bring to mind the expression, “too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash.”