Though artist Brian Butler began live-drawing concerts in the Northeast, he has perfected his style in Miami's smoky bars and DIY spaces.
Since moving to the area, he's developed into a hotshot illustrator, been featured in a profile by Vice Magazine's online video channel Noisey, and steadfastly documented our city's singular brand of weirdness.
Now after five years of ducking stage-divers while scratching in a sketchpad, Butler is preparing to finally give some of these illustrations a proper exhibition with Double Vision, a collaborative show with photographer Jaime Salazar, which will also mark the release of a limited-edition book of selected concert drawings.
We here at Crossfade spoke with the artist about how he got into live-drawing, the reception his work has received, and dispelling the myth that Miami is a just a stagnant breeding ground for face-eating zombies.
Crossfade: It's great that you're doing this Double Vision exhibition with your concert drawings. Can you tell us a bit about the show?
Brian Butler: The whole idea of the show is that it's supposed to showcase the concerts that are happening down in South Florida, in a region that people say, "There is no scene." There's this myth that it's stagnant down here because touring bands don't want to drive all the way down to the tip of Florida. So we're trying to dispel that myth that the area is stagnant, proving through photography and illustrations that there's rad stuff happening down here. Between local bands and the weird bands that somehow manage to come down here, there's a lot of activity.
How did you get into live drawing concerts? Do you recall which show was the first one you did it at?
I actually am putting together a book of all my concert drawings right now, and according to the book, I think the earliest concert drawings I have were done in Massachusetts at my art school, specifically at the Baltimore Round Robins, which had like Dan Deacon and Double Dagger and all these Baltimore bands. So officially, that one is the first one that I have archived in the sketch book. I feel like that one was just testing the waters a little bit. The first one that I was really stoked on was actually Gwar!
It definitely seems Gwar would make an awesome concert drawing!
Dude! It was! I had seen them a few times at that point. It was maybe my third time seeing Gwar. So I ripped a poster down and started drawing on the back of it, and then christened the drawing with the blood of Oderus and whomever he was decapitating on stage!
Where did the concept for live-drawing concerts come from?
To my knowledge, I don't think anyone else does it religiously. I know people have done it, like, I've seen concert drawings. But I've never seen anyone do it so proactively. I'm trying to own it a little bit. I'm looking forward to pursuing it a little more seriously this year. I'm making plans to go to South By Southwest this year and tackle it.
That first show, the Dan Deacon show, was held at the art school where I had just graduated. So there was part of me that wanted to kind of assign myself something, like, "Oh, I don't have teachers telling me to do stuff, I need to impose my own projects" and here we are five years later and I'm still doing it.
Do you still enjoy the shows as much when you're drawing them? As someone that covers live performances, I find myself enjoying the moment less, but I find having the document after the fact is that much more rewarding.
I think it's case by case. It certainly makes a boring show more enjoyable, but I sort of gravitate to shows that are a bit more aggressive and a bit more crazy because there's more interesting stuff to draw. Every show has something that I want to capitalize on. I'm still stoked on the shows, and it doesn't really affect how I approach it. I was never a big dancer or anything like that, so I don't feel like I'm compromising the way I would appreciate a show.
What is the reception like from bands after seeing the drawings?
I think people recognize the novelty of like, "Oh, there's a hundred concert photographers, but here's a weird guy actually drawing." I think the bands that tend to be a little more surprised are the slightly smaller bands because they're more accessible. I've kind of calculated it a bit, so that when I post the drawings now, I'll make sure when that gets pushed to Twitter that it's at the band and I've had some interesting interactions.
Have you and Jaime documented any of the same shows? And will we be able to compare the artwork at your Double Vision exhibition?
That's a really great question! I've certainly drawn the same shows that he's shot, but we still have to sort of go through our shit and figure out what we're actually putting in the show. [Laughs] We definitely overlap.
Here's what I love about Jaime's photography: He's not a stage potato. He's in the audience. He's taking photos of the audience. He's taking photos of the same stuff that I'm looking for in my drawings -- like that dude wearing a gas mask and fishnets -- that dude's not on stage. We're focusing more on the scene than just the stage.
There's a lot of concert photographers -- and I admire concert photographers, I'm not knocking them -- but the shots that they want are shots that they've seen in Rolling Stone, or in music blogs, and a lot them go for the same formulaic shots that you can see wherever. Jaime has an eye for the weird stuff that is happening around. Also, Jaime only shoots film, no digital stuff.
What's the story on your impending book?
I've catalogued all of these concerts, and I have this weird anxiety where I feel like if I'm not drawing, I'm not being productive. So I have enough of these drawings now for a book. I actually just got the proof back, but it's a little shy of 180 pages of just spreads of these concert drawings. They range the gamut from punk shows to, like, Ultra, to things at Grand Central, to stand-up comedy at Sweat Records. It's called Show Drawn. I made a prototype and I'm going to release a limited number of them at this show, and then I'm going to try to solicit the book a bit and try to get it picked up for mass distribution.
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Double Vision: A Joint Exhibition by Brian Butler and Jaime Salazar. Presented by Sweat Records and Gramps. With live music from Nixa and Testokra. Swampspace Gallery, 150 NE 41st St., Miami. The opening reception begins at 7 p.m. and ends at 11 on Friday, February 28. Visit swampspace.blogspot.com.