Before he was musician, and long before he was a rock star, Richard Butler was a painter. He studied at Epsom Art School outside London and brought that work to bear in the artwork and designs for his band, the Psychedelic Furs, with whom he has gained international acclaim.
An artist in the truest sense — both as a painter and a musician — Butler will serve as the guest of honor at the February 2023 Malloy Lecture in the Arts, to be held in The Westport Library’s Trefz Forum on Tuesday, February 28, at 7 pm.
Butler’s appearance is the first of two Malloy lectures planned for 2023, following a brief hiatus; the normally annual series was last held in November 2021, featuring Broadway star Kelli O’Hara in conversation with renowned American theater director Bartlett Sher. The second 2023 lecture will be held in the late fall or early winter.
The Malloy Lecture in the Arts is made possible by a generous contribution from Westport artist Susan Malloy. The Westport Library created the lecture series in 2002 as a free, public discussion by an individual who has had a significant cultural influence and whose work has enhanced the understanding and appreciation of the arts.
“It is an honor beyond measure to welcome Richard to our forum and our stage,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “He is, without question, the ideal guest for our reprisal of the Malloy Lecture in the Arts — perhaps best known for his time with the Psychedelic Furs but also an artist of great acclaim and immeasurable talent. I can’t wait for our community to get to hear from him.”
Butler will be joined at the Library by famed American musician, record producer, and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chris Frantz, the drummer for both Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, which he co-founded with wife and Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth.
“I have known Richard since 1980, when the Psychedelic Furs toured with Talking Heads,” said Frantz. “They were a darn good band then and still are. Having seen Richard’s paintings in his New York gallery and in his studio, he brings something great and unique unto himself to the work. I look forward to our conversation and learning more about what inspires him and how making music and painting continue to turn him on.”
Butler rose to international fame with the Psychedelic Furs starting in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, with the Furs emerging as one of London’s leading post-punk bands. Their self-titled debut, produced by VersoFest headliner Steve Lillywhite, was Top 20 on the UK Albums Chart, and their run of success continued with six subsequent albums released between 1981 and 1991, including Talk Talk Talk and Forever Now.
Butler put his painting on the backburner to accommodate the Furs’ record promotion and worldwide touring, returning to his first love when the band took an extended hiatus in the early 90s. Since then, he’s kept at it and found a balance between the two endeavors.
With his daughter as his muse, Butler produces expressionistic portraits of female subjects who he said serve as ciphers for himself, smudging, distorting, and overlaying patterns onto his models’ faces to create what has been described as “dynamic compositions that are at once naturalistic and hallucinatory.”
“In a way," said Butler, “I think all of my paintings are self-portraits in that, though the face I am painting may not be my own, the feeling I get back from the painting is certainly an important element of my own psyche.”
Butler’s work has been featured worldwide, with the artist having launched exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Berlin, and at other prestigious galleries across the globe.
Despite the shift in artistic expression, Butler has continued to create music with several side projects. He also released a solo album in 2006, and in 2020 he put out the first new Psychedelic Furs album in nearly 30 years, which was met with international chart success and rave reviews from both fans and critics alike.
In addition to O’Hara and Sher, past Malloy Lecture programs have included Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; distinguished playwright Arthur Miller; artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude; musicians Joshua Bell and Frederic Chiu; U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins; Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation; author Joyce Carol Oates; cartoonist Roz Chast; actor Christopher Plummer; stage, film, and theater star John Lithgow; preeminent classical dancer Jacques d'Amboise; music legend Clive Davis; author Salman Rushdie; Falsettos: In Conversation; Bernstein on Broadway; and playwright, actor, and educator Anna Deavere Smith.
All seats have already been reserved for the in-person component of the February 2023 Malloy Lecture in the Arts. There will be a livestream of the conversation, however, and a recording will be featured afterward on The Westport Library YouTube channel.