Editor's note: The Dayton Art Institute provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Dayton Art Institute directly through either this phone number or web address:


Ken Butler: Hybrid Visions

May 31 - August 10, 2008


Imagine a violin created from a cowboy boot, a banjo made from the seat of a bicycle, or a cello assembled from a pitch fork. These are just a few of the unusual creations of Ken Butler, an accomplished visual artist and musician. Butler's playable hybrid musical instruments, fashioned from such everyday items as flashlights, brooms, and clocks, are featured in the special exhibition, Ken Butler: Hybrid Visions, on view at The Dayton Art Institute from May 31 to August 10, 2008. (right: Photo of Ken Butler, courtesy of The Dayton Art Institute, Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University and the Art Gym at Marylhurst University)

Ken Butler is internationally recognized as an innovator of experimental musical instruments created from diverse materials including tools, sports equipment, and household objects. Butler describes himself as a bricoleur, a French term loosely translated to mean "handyman" or "jack of all trades." The concept is to make something with whatever is at hand.

Butler constructed his first playable hybrid instrument in 1978 when he added a fingerboard, tailpiece, pegs, bridge, and a contact microphone to a small hatchet, which he then played as a violin. The axe violin, which Butler has played at hundreds of live performances, was both his first sound piece and first sculptural object. Since then, he has created more than 400 hybrid string (and a few percussion) instruments/sculptures from primarily found objects and materials.



The exhibition of more than 75 works will include every facet of Butler's oeuvre from his first hybrid instrument, Axe Violin, 1978, to his most recent works. Exhibition highlights include his Styrotone Grand Piano (made from Styrofoam packing material) and his Projection Grand Piano, which creates a light show when it is played.

Large wall sculptures from Butler's Lost and Sound Series, collages, and schematic drawings of his audio-visual sculptures and installations will also be included. The culmination of the exhibition will be Butler's indescribable installation room, Tilted Picnic.

Ken Butler: Hybrid Visions was organized by the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University and the Art Gym at Marylhurst University. The exhibition has been supported in part by grants from the City of Salem's Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission. The Dayton Art Institute exhibition has been augmented with additional works courtesy of the artist.


(above: Ken Butler, Tilted Picnic (Featuring Tuna Cello), Mixed-media asemblage with kinetic sound, Courtesy of the artist, Brooklyn, New York)



Ken Butler studied viola as a child and maintained a strong interest in music while studying the visual arts at Colorado College and in France at The Institute for American Universities in Aix-en-Provence. He completed his M.F.A. in painting from Portland State University in 1977. Butler moved from Portland, Oregon to New York City in 1988.

His works have been exhibited and performed in galleries, clubs, museums, festivals, and theatres throughout the United States, including Lincoln Center and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, as well as in Europe, South America, and Japan.

Butler has received numerous grants and awards including multiple fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Oregon Arts Commission, among others. In 2008, he received the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Grant for artistic merit.

His works have been reviewed in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Village Voice, New York Press, Artforum, Art in America, Smithsonian Magazine, Sculpture Magazine, Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, and many other publications.

He has been featured on numerous national and international radio and television programs, including a live appearance on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he performed on his instruments with the Tonight Show Band in 1999.

Butler has taught courses and workshops and lectured at universities, schools, museums, and cultural centers in the United States, Canada, and France. He has collaborated with dancers, artists, designers, composers, and film makers. He is fluent in French and has traveled extensively.


(above: Ken Butler, Sled Cello, 1998, Mixed media. Collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette, Oregon, Gift of the artist)



Ken Butler's Live Performance
Voices of Anxious Objects
Sunday, June 22, 2:00 p.m.
NCR Renaissance Auditorium
See Ken Butler perform in person! Hammers, hockey sticks, tennis rackets, golf clubs, and brooms become violins, guitars, and cellos. Fee.
"It's not just that Ken Butler knows how to bow stringed parade rifles, play dental dams like trumpets, and construct keyboards from aluminum crutches, it's that he knows how to play them well." - Neil Strauss, The Village Voice, 5/14/91
New Faces, Fresh Sounds
Sunday, June 29, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Enjoy an afternoon of contemporary music by some of Dayton's best young musicians. Listen to works on a variety of instruments composed by the performers as well as teachers inspired by Ken Butler: Hybrid Visions. Free. Donations are appreciated to support The Dayton Art Institute's concert series.
Circuit Bending Workshop
Sunday, July 20, 1:00 - 2:30 p.m.
Ages 6-8 (with an adult partner)
Ages 9-Adults
Experience the fun of circuit bending, a do-it-yourself form of sound art. Learn how to dismantle your old electronic toys and turn them into unique sound machines with Dayton native John Landis. Tools, batteries, and toys will be on hand, but feel free to bring your own battery-powered and sound-producing toys to the workshop. Advance registration is required and space is limited. For more information or to register, call (937) 223-5277, ext. 334, or e-mail scrothers@daytonartinstitute.org. Fee.

(above: Ken Butler, Styro-tone Grand Piano: A Rhythm Reliquary, 2005, Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist, Brooklyn, New York)


Ken Butler, Zen Fan Grand, 2006, Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist, Brooklyn, New York)


(above: Ken Butler, Rural Baby Grand, 2002, Mixed media. Courtesy of the artist, Brooklyn, New York)


(above: Ken Butler, Urban Grand Piano, 1998, Mixed media, interactive audio-visual piano. Courtesy of the artist, Brooklyn, New York)


To view more images please click here.


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

Read more articles and essays concerning this source by visiting the sub-index page for the Dayton Art Institute in Resource Library.

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2008 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.