We had the good fortune of connecting with Tay Butler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tay, how do you think about risk?
My entire life and career is predicated on RISK. I was a young man living in Milwaukee, making good money and reasonably content with the space I landed in as an adult. Except for one thing: I WAS MISERABLE. It may confuse some how a person can both be content and miserable at the same time, but I was living proof that it can occur. I left a very comfortable life behind, RISKING my livelihood and the ability to take care of my family, in order to move to Houston and pursuit a new existence for myself. I followed this dramatic risk with a successive set of smaller risks: going back to school full-time, choosing art over traditional occupational/industry majors, converting to Islam, accepting the opportunity to get my MFA, etc. All of these risks have made me the man and artist I am today. For me, the concept has a lot of parallels with the idea of stress. Some believe all stress to be bad, and since risk usually comes pre-installed with stress factors, it prevents people from embracing risk in certain situations. I developed the philosophy very early in my life (high school and since) that not all stress is bad. In fact, I believe most stress to be positive. Now obviously, I am not referring to the depths of mental health, anxiety, depression, etc. I am only speaking to the more shallow and surface condition of being stressed out about a decision, event or even your future. Stress, for me, is simply the process of being introduced to something foreign, and not knowing what is on the other side of it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Since I am just completing year one of my MFA studies in Studio Art, the answer to this question will change. But today, my work is interested in the regional Black experiences of my upbringing and continue to current time. This entails revisionist history styled explorations of the past through video and archive. The documentation of Black life in specific areas I am from or frequent through photography and oral narratives. The surreal examination of Black culture through collage and sculpture. The synthesizing of the Black experience through installation and music. And many more methods to engage with Black American life.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
When people come to Houston, and I got a little money in my pocket, we always start with food. Houston is infamous for its restaurant culture, and while it is annoying standing in line at Black staples like Breakfast Klub and Turkey Leg Hut, its a must to at least try. If not, we try the many other places that are just as good, if not better. As an artist, we would obviously spend a ton of time in the museums, from the HCP to CAMH, Project Row Houses to MFAH, Menil, Lawndale, HMAAC and all spaces in-between. Coming from Milwaukee, a city with one major museum and a small handful of smaller rooms with art in them, its heavenly to have all of these major and world renowned art spaces all within 15 minutes of each other. I am a basketball junkie, so we must hit a Rockets game if in season. If not, the sports bars will do! I cannot go a week without attending a book or music store. So we would have to do one of my Saturday runs to Beckers Books, Heights Vinyl, Half Price Books on Westheimer, Screwed Up Records and Tapes, Cactus and anywhere else to find something new, cheap or too golden to pass up! Lastly, I am a cruiser. I’m from a car culture city where we had nothing to do as youth but get in the car and “get in traffic”, AKA drive around from location to location hoping to see and be seen. Now, Houston is 30 times the size of my hometown, but they are obviously known for their car culture here, with slabs, swangas and everything else you can think of. I don’t have a nice car, but its still mandatory, every now and then, to “bleed the block”.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My story does not exist without women. My mother, my grandmother and my Godmother literally raised and took care of me. My wife, mother-in-law and Aunt-in-law were the literal backbones that supported my becoming an artist. Exes, old friends, classmates and peers have usually provided the most care, insight and support when they were women, as the neglect, bravado and refusal to be vulnerable typically associated with men (myself included) sometimes overpowers our ability to connect. My greatest influences professionally have mostly been women, from my undergrad professor Keliy-Anderson Staley, my former instructors Tia-Simone Gardner and Carmen Champion, and even my artistic spirit animals Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems. I can list many men who have made me who I am, but it begins and ends with a woman.
All images courtesy of artist.