George Butler is a talented young illustrator, with a special focus on travel and current affairs. Having previously explored such hot subjects as the oil fields of Azerbaijan, soldiers in Afghanistan and the Syrian civil war, his latest exhibition at the Romanian Cultural Institute in London was dedicated to the lush region of Transylvania. This work, aiming to capture the normalities of local rural life, could seem politically timid in comparison with earlier projects. Yet, as a country that’s now part of the EU, Romania continues to remain relatively unknown, being, for many Europeans, off the cultural and geographic map. George Butler’s quest to explore the region and document its people via art is thus no less political, nor less important.
Transylvania is situated in the verdant Carpathian Mountains, a landscape known also by its well-deserved nickname: the Transylvanian Alps. Here in the heart of Eastern Europe, so isolated from the over-trodden tourist route, is a unique region of unspoiled local life. The vibrant Romanian, Gypsy and Saxon villages are rumoured to have existed here since the 12th century, and as remnants of medieval planning have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The absence of decorative concessions the villages afford to exotic tourism make them all the more precious, yet with modern development growing apace the enchanting stability of this rural life is inevitably at risk. The local government in turn has little to offer to help preserve this valuable cultural landscape. George Butler’s project in collaboration with the Global Heritage Fund is therefore to be praised in its quest to save and document this vanishing world. Its programme – the Carpathian Villages Preservation Project – is aimed at protecting the local villages from destruction by promoting public education, documentation and revival of local crafts. Butler’s use of a traditional art medium to document Carpathia therefore speaks well for the local way of life, as yet untainted by modernity.
In a digital age where photography is a much more frequent medium, Butler’s dip pen and ink drawings of Carpathia are strikingly intimate, the delicate works skilfully isolating the essential elements of local architecture and scenery, as well as the people, in a way that photography perhaps could not. The works exhibited at the Romanian Institute capture the penetrating details and contours of faces, houses, farming procedures and rural-scapes that then almost dissolve in the elusive outlines of the artist’s pen. Such technique is well suited to the fragile nature of these medieval villages and shows a deeper ideological understanding of the issues the region faces today. The current exhibition is a talented and intelligent exploration of a fragile and unfamiliar Europe.
George Butler’s ‘Capturing Carpathia’ was supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute, London. More of his work can be seen at www.georgebutler.org.