When the black dog bites

Dianne Dempsey | Bendigo Weekly | 19-Jan-2017

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An extremely exciting exhibition is on display at the La Trobe Art Institute in View Street.

Daniel Butterworth’s When the Dog Bites consists of nine self-portraits which depict the primary emotion of depression.

But Butterworth doesn’t describe the works as self-portraits.

In an original concept he uses his face and body as a means of expressing the emotional state of other people.

“In this series I am a sort of conduit for the feelings of other people,” he said.

 “I painted my reactions and understanding of their words.

“I’ve been meaning to paint around the theme of depression for a long time now,” he said.

“But what got me going was coming in from my studio one day and watching an item on TV where a woman spoke about her son’s depression in the aftermath of the Afghanistan war.

“The woman’s son said, ’I just took my head out of a noose today mum.’ Those words really affected me.”

Consequently Butterworth put a drop box in a Kyneton gallery and invited people to write down words which described their depression.

His process was to then think about the words of each individual, ingest their meaning and then take a photograph of himself expressing those emotions.

Butterworth worked on the series for three to four months and says he completed 20 pieces altogether.

“By numbers 18 or 19 the process was starting to affect me. I stopped smiling, my wife Michelle suggested it was time I stopped.”

The resulting “non” self-portraits are confronting.

Reminiscent of the work of Lucian Freud and Ben Quilty, the medium (acrylics in this case) is generously applied onto board.

The images are stark and non-compromising.

Butterworth said future projects, as with 98 per cent of his work, will also be based on self-portraiture.

“I’m interested in going over to Ballarat and talking to the victims of the church over there.

“And again I will use the same process – taking on other peoples’ emotions and expressing them in my face and body.”

He was a finalist for the Doug Moran Prize in 2013 and 2010 and a finalist in last year’s Archibald prize.

A former alumni of La Trobe university, Butterworth is passionate about his art practice and with this stunning exhibition is sure to attract more national attention.

If you or anyone you know is is need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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