10×10 Artist Spotlight – Wolfgang Buttress

Interview with Wolfgang Buttress

Wolfgang Buttress is a multiple award winning artist with an international reputation burnished by high profile public artworks and installations around the world.

Notable highlights include The Hive, a structure based on an abstracted honeycomb; sound and lights are triggered in real time according to the activity of a nearby beehive. It is now in Kew Gardens, was originally part of the UK pavilion at Expo 2015 in Milan, and was featured in CNN’s ‘Most Visually Inspiring Moments of 2016’. Collaboration with an ANU astrophysicist yielded UNA, a remarkable creation in Canberra: a metal mirror globe within another globe whose multiple perforations map the 9,100 stars in the night sky one can see with the naked eye.

Wolfgang Buttress is an artist whose work gets you to experience, to feel, to think, because he has already done that deeply to create the art.

We were delighted to have the chance to talk with him over coffee in another great and inspiring London rail project, the train shed of St Pancras Station. It was fascinating to listen about how he works and about the thought and background to the engaging artworks he creates. We’ll step aside now for you to hear from Wolfgang Buttress himself about the artwork he’s been creating for the 10 x 10 Auction and what it means to him.

“Article 25 is an amazing charity that I’ve been supporting for the last four or five years. When I was asked to participate in the 2018 exhibition I was really happy, and I’m really pleased with the piece I’ve been working on.

“The square I’ve been assigned is Speakers’ Corner, and the piece of work I’m working on this year again relates to the site. The artwork refers to directly to the place: not so much what the site looks like but what it signifies. Historically Speakers Corner is a place where people would go and be free and talk about what’s on their mind, freedoms we sometimes take for granted. I’m interested in that ideas have been freely talked about in this location for years and years and years, and that this collage is perhaps a part of this tradition.

“This piece of work is a little different from the last two I’ve created for Article 25. The previous pieces were etchings. This is an artwork drawn directly on a map, an old map that I found of the area. I’ve drawn a series of words and marks which I subsequently erased, the idea that memories and ideas are returning, suggesting a palimpsest, a trace or a memory.

“It’s the idea of continuity, of making words which are very much of the now, but I hope it also has a historical resonance to the area. Freedom of speech, an unbiased press and the fundamental essentials for a civilised society, of everyone having a roof over their head and a belly full of food are becoming increasingly difficult for so many people these days’

Wolfgang Buttress is quite the collaborative artist, working with architects, engineers, musicians and physicists. He started off on working primarily as a painter, still using sculptural materials like wax, varnish, copper wire. We asked him at what point in his career these public installations took off.

For a long time, when I was young, especially when I was a child, I used to think that science and art were polar opposites. As I’ve become older I’ve come to realise we share a lot of similarities in how we try to express what it means to be human in the world. I think these days we’re so bombarded by digital images, it is tempting to believe that the eye is the most important receiver of information, but I think sometimes if you use some of the other senses – scent, sound, taste, touch – the experience can be fuller: it can be more powerful and more resonant.  There can be a more tangible connection between the audience and the idea, the art can become a conduit.

“I’ve been playing music for a long time, and for me art was over there and music was over here; these two disciplines really came together for me about four years ago when I designed the UK pavilion for the World Expo in Milan, and the centre point of that was a sculpture called the Hive. So for me that was a real distillation of twenty years work, about all these things coming together – art, science, architecture, sound. We maybe don’t have all the answers individually, but by working as a team, working collaboratively, it’s amazing what can be done.

“When I was young I used to think it was your duty as artist to express what was inside, somehow I felt the answer could always be found there. It has been liberating to embrace the idea of letting go, sometimes I feel that the challenge is knowing and feeling when to intervene and when to let go, to try find the balance between harmony and something more chaotic. It is as important to listen to the internal as well as the external.

“Most days I draw, I paint, and there’s something very liberating about that – it’s fast, it’s quick, it’s instinctive – and the ideas feed into these larger pieces that I work on all around the world.

“For the Speakers’ Corner piece I’ve created for Article 25, it was the experience of being there that was important to me. Those opportunities to say something freely…. sometimes it’s like when you have an idea and you throw these ideas like pebbles into a pool or a pond; you’re not really sure where those ripples will go, but one of the things you can do as an artist is to throw the pebbles.

Interviewers: KV Duong, WSP (contributing artist) and Martyn Crawford, WSP