In the two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has shifted. Here in Houston, there is a burgeoning generation of artists working to make sense of our new reality and critique the structures of power that are inhibiting societal progress. For this issue, we asked Houston-based artist Tay Butler to share five things he loves and what inspires him to create. Butler’s work centers Black history employing a unique approach: this artist inspires us to think beyond ourselves.
American history is reimagined through the futuristic collages or multidisciplinary artist Tay Butler. Born in 1980 and raised in Milwaukee, he relocated to Houston to start his artistic journey after a stint in the military and time working as a power plant engineer. While studying photography at the University of Houston, he expanded his longtime interest in historical archives. His work takes inspiration from such artists as Lorna Simpson, Arthur Jafa, and Virgil Abloh, who are known for their obsessive fascination with collecting images and videos. Working to fill the gaps in his own archive, Butler began visualizing his family’s history using oral anecdotes and images from his extensive magazine collection.
He recently finished his MFA at the University of Arkansas and lives in Houston. On the heels of his MFA thesis exhibition, Butler’s solo presentation, At First Nothing Is, will be on view in Houston on June 24 & 25 at Reeves Design + Art studio (2415 Taft St).
Five Things Tay Butler Loves
- YouTube: “I’m a YouTube fanatic, and I spend time watching a lot of other artists talk about their work.”
Forty Million Dollar Slaves by William C. Rhoden: “I’ve become a voracious reader. This book has been the backbone of my thesis and supported all my work.”
Music: “Music is the foundation of everything Black people do. I can’t go more than a week without listening to Innocent Country 2 by Quelle Chris and Parliament’s Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome.”
Basketball: “Basketball is more important than people are willing to give it credit for. A lot of my heroes, like Arthur Jafa, have spoken about [the sport] as an extension of Black expression. We didn’t invent the game, but we made the game.”
The archive: “I’m interested in history and things that we don’t know or forget about. I’m obsessed with finding images I’ve never seen before. It’s never-ending, and although I’ll never be able to see everything, I’m still trying to.”