Artist Madbutt Talks Collage and Changing the World
It's hard to look away from the art of collage artist Madbutt. (Real name Madelaine Buttini.) She creates work that is focused on women, with the frequent use of juxtaposition, vintage elements, and slightly trippy moments. Sometimes the result is familiar, foreign, warm, and isolated all at once. I spoke to the Australian based artist about the creative process, whether it's possible to change the world with art, and what an ideal world even is.
Tell me about your medium.
In my artworks I use a mixture of hand cut and digital collage. I use my hand cut collage for my exhibition pieces and I use digital collage for client based works and also my social media content.
With creative collage there are so many elements involved, where does the inspiration for a piece begin?
I recently discovered that I am easily enabled and triggered by the things around me, I think that largely comes from my ADHD, anxiety, and depression. I try to focus my creative energy on things that have influenced me in a positive way but usually, it is the negative things that come through the most like heartbreak or a breakdown of a friendship.
So your work is inspired by your personal life.
Until about middle of last year, I didn't share many works that reflected on my life or emotions as I never felt comfortable sharing that side of me to the world; I grew up expressing myself online via a blog in High School and in return I was bullied a lot for it. It wasn't until I started feeling more comfortable with my audience that I started to express that side of me.
Right about now I would say 99% of my work is a reflection of my emotions and my life. Sometimes I will accompany my works with words about my mental health and love life, but I rarely post photos of myself or anything to do with who I am. I like to keep that side out of it – I don't want to be known for what I look like, I'd rather be known for my talent.
Let's talk about work that's inspired by social issues. What issues are you passionate about and how do you bring attention to them through your work?
Apart from my art, I am passionate about a few things – women's sexual health, a woman's access to abortion, legal aid for domestic violence victims and human trafficking.
So far I have only ever had the opportunity to touch on women's sexual health. Last year I was apart of a group exhibition in Sydney held at Comber St Studios. I did three works reflecting on female genital mutilation (FGM). I felt that it was a great setting to bring up issues like these, amongst images of beautiful women was this translucent issue that needed to be discussed.
I only really want to focus on these issues at exhibitions because I believe that if someone can take the time to look at the works and read the artist statement then that truly says something about them and adds a more personal feel to it.
Can we use art to change the world?
I'd certainly like to think that artists can change the world like politicians can, but I don't think that is very realistic. I believe that art can influence an idea for change, for instance in political terms Shepard Fairy's Hope poster for the 2008 Obama campaign was definitely the embodiment and driving force of his election. I do believe that art can give insight into how a certain demographic, minority, place or issue is affecting its surrounding elements and "the self" through emotion and visual insight – something that can be quite powerful. If that's the precursor for actioning positive change throughout the levels of society that's necessary then all the more power to it!
When thinking about my ideal world, I would like to see all people have more of a fair go at affordable housing, food access, education, healthcare, for cancer to be easily curable, flora and fauna to be treated with kindness, fossil fuels to be banned and only green energy to be used. Basically, you stubbed your toe, didn't get the job you wanted or had a fight with your friend being the only negativity to come about you. Trivial negativity and optimal positivity!
There's an interesting balance of soft femininity in your work with strength and power. Is that intentional? Is there a focus on female empowerment?
Yes – I definitely intentionally only use women, I think there is the exception of one collage with the man as the main focus. Being a woman myself, I love the female form and the embodiment of being a woman. Pre-collage days I used to collect images of my favourite women for my blog and share my love for femininity on there. I guess it just transferred over to my art!
How do you know when a piece is done?
It's really hard to answer this question because you never know when a piece is finished. I guess for me it's when I feel like I've captured what I see in my mind.
In a certain sense playing with fantasy elements can help ground certain messages by bringing greater focus to them. Do you have thoughts about that?
I think what I see in my mind is a fantasy and I want to emulate that to the viewer. I try to give a perspective of how I see certain things and how it makes me feel - I want the viewer to feel something similar to what I am trying to evoke.
In some ways I feel like a new version of myself all the time. Do you experience that as an artist? Does older work ever not feel like "you" anymore or does it all remain familiar?
In a way, I do feel somewhat different as a person month to month, but I think it's more of a growing up feeling. As someone who is nearly 25, I've had a lot of time to experience a whole magnitude of different things. Over the past six months I feel like my emotional maturity is constantly expanding and allowing me to withstand a lot of negative things that would have previously impacted me. This allows me to see the positive in a new and different way that I hadn't before.
As an artist, I do experiment with different things but I don’t always feel like I am evolving. Maybe from an outsiders perspective I am but I don’t believe that I am changing frequently enough for it to be considered a constant motion in my career thus far. I do like to do different things but I usually stick to what I like and try to expand on those ideas naturally rather than forcing something out of nothing.
Do you make custom pieces?
Yes! I do custom limited edition (one of one) art prints for any client who has the budget for what they want. I have had clients that wanted their deceased family members within a collage and that always makes you feel the pressure to give them something amazing because you don’t want to let them down. On the other hand, I have had commissions where it took me 11 months to complete which was a big task as you can imagine.
Well, I am really excited for the next couple of weeks and two months. Over the holidays and the beginning of the year I was doing design work for @sweet.foodtruck's first truck! It's been a process but we are at the final step of development which is the wrap of the design. I am really excited to share that.
I have also been a contributing artist for @folkrebellion's bi-monthly newspaper, The Dispatch, which has been a great project to be apart of. I love making collages based on stories so this is a great time for me to practice. I am also organising my next solo exhibition in Brisbane. I have started incorporating neon signs into my exhibitions so I am excited for that! But I will definitely keep everyone updated for all the details when I have them.