“Figurative rituals”, “neo-gothic altars for the mysteries of an obscure religion,” the critics have indulged in finding ways to describe the paintings of Saturno Butto, a man who, with the exception of a decade related to art studies, never left Bibione, a small Venetian city alongside the sea, where he lives and works. Here is a brief interview with one of the most captivating figurative painters around today.
von Scaramouche: Do you remember the first visual art work that really caught your attention / imagination and what was it about the work that captivated you?
Saturno Butto: As a child, from time to time, I watched a painter (my neighbor) at work in the garden. He did landscapes in open air and he was technically good and fast. I was fascinated and wanted to imitate him.
vS: When one considers the rich history of visual arts in Italy and the fact that you are Italian and have studied arts in your home country, are the works of the Italian masters of particular significance to you and your work? How can one explain the lasting appeal of those baroque masters many centuries later?
SB: Naturally, I think there is something “genetic” that is passed down from generation to generation. “Our” own art history is a fundamental part in the development of our artistic identity. In my case specifically, the exaltation of the figure and the technique comes from the classical tradition. Personally, for now, I can not find anything in the field of visual arts that compares to the beauty, authority and the monumental nature of Baroque art. Strength and transcendence are what I want to express most with my work.
vS: What are some the questions you are looking to answer through your work and what are the answers you are looking to share with the people who view your works?
SB: I’ve already said on other occasions that I’m not interested in the public’s reaction to my works. I try to do my best to engage people through my vision of the world and regardless of what I paint, I’m aware that everyone is different. It’s true that one paints to show his/her works to others but I can say that I paint for myself and I’m looking to find my own artistic identity and balance as a person (beyond any market related considerations).
vS: Your work frequently juxtaposes the sacred and the profane. Does this remain as an ‘explosive’ mix as it might have been 40 or 50 years ago? Do you still today encounter situations where you are made to feel unwelcomed because of the content of your work?
SB: Fortunately, I never had serious censorship problems, perhaps because I try to be careful in deciding when to exhibit paintings of an explicit nature. Inevitably, the works reflect an artist’s time and the historical context in which they live. My paintings could not have existed 40 or 50 years ago, or rather could not have been conveyed through official channels so they would have remained unknown to most people. However, as it has already happened in the past, if we think of the erotic-voyeuristic works by creators such as Rembrandt and Courbet that survived, we can see how society imposes its filters… Naturally, with time and along with society itself, common sense regarding decency evolves (albeit slowly), thanks to avant-garde artists.
vS: How do you view or define the role of the artist in contemporary society?
SB: To give effective guidance on future social changes while bearing witness to their own times, but without worrying about having to do it.
vS: What do you like about the idea of offering reproductions / prints of your original works?
SB: Personally and in relation to my work, I find reproductions (if of good quality and in limited numbers) contribute to a greater visibility of my art. Since my production of unique pieces is limited compared to the market demand, I’m happy to publish prints approved by myself.
vS: Can you tell us about your intentions when you were painting The Sisters?
SB: The Sisters is a portrait of two authentic sisters who have quite different characters and personalities. The one with the mask is devoted to sin and the other is definitely sunnier and virtuous. The composition also includes a skull which, beyond being part of the compositional geometry, symbolises that regardless of the choices we make in life, we all have a common fate.
vS: Since you have started your professional career in the pre-internet era, have you observed the internet to be a tool that improved or somewhat deteriorated the ability of fine art painters to make a living over time? Can you elaborate?
SB: The Internet is a wonderful instrument for communication, especially for those who create visual works. Of course, it introduces the risk of an overcrowded art scene which increases the difficulty of finding works of great quality. However, I believe certain creators have the ability to “go beyond the computer screen” and avoid this problem.
vS: Do you listen to music while you paint? Do you have a song(s) recommendation to accompany the persons who will contemplate their print The Sisters?
SB: Absolutely! Music is a fundamental part of my work process. With images as with music, I like to roam between different eras and mix genres together, for example combining the ancient sacred music of Claudio Monteverdi (16th century) or Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (18th century) with contemporary goth composers such as Coph Nia, Darkwood, Saturnus, etc.
vS: Numerous male musicians have stated that their main motivation to learn their craft was a mean to seduce women. Can the same be said of painters?
SB: For the most part, I think so! Basically, we’re all human beings with our strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I will not be shy of a certain voyeurism when confronted to a display of exhibitionism. It’s a non-issue. All of us constantly need to measure our ability to seduce. The only difference is in the style we do it.