The Unsung Explorations Of David Budd

Arts & Culture

Pictured: A selection of David Budd's "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Atlantis" series on display at Sarasota Art Museum. Photo: Rich Schineller.

In 1951, a young man named David Budd saw a video of Jackson Pollock in action and it changed the trajectory of his life forever. An interior design graduate from the Ringling College of Art, Budd dove headfirst into the world of abstract painting. And he was good at it. At least, people like Syd Solomon said so. And within three years, Budd was up in New York City, painting and drinking with the likes of Willem De Kooning, Lee Krasner and even Pollock himself, holding his own and developing what would become his signature style. Still, years later, when the art history books were written and the new pantheon installed, Budd’s name was frequently, and conspicuously, absent.

With its latest exhibition, David Budd: Motion Within Stillness, Sarasota Art Museum celebrates the materiality of the medium and gives audiences the chance to really see, not just look at, the work of an artist too often left out of the conversation. “This was definitely overdue,” says Sarasota Art Museum Assistant Curator Emory Conetta.

Featuring 16 large-scale paintings from Ringling College’s collection, some of which haven’t been seen in decades, the exhibition highlights Budd’s exploration of paint as a medium—an exploration one could argue bordered on obsessive. Toiling in isolation, Budd would spend days mixing his paints to get not just the preferred hue but the perfect texture and viscosity. Then, with his concoction complete, the exploration would pivot to something formal, with the artist laying the paint on thick in his signature palette knife technique, pushing the physicality of the medium into something even sculptural. “He gave everything to every painting,” Conetta says. “It was a total commitment to the process.”

Minimalist and monochrome, the results reward the lingering eye and the patient viewer. What seems pure black at first glance reveals sneaking subtleties in the hue’s construction, purples and greens. The myriad marks, like fugitive thumbprints in icing, leave clear tracks of the artist’s path, begging to be reverse-engineered and decoded. “There’s so much nuance in one painting, in the texture and the surface,” says Conetta. “It’s like a little treasure hunt.” 

(She offers a tip to those looking for gold: examine the borders and sides of Budd’s paintings for a glimpse of how the artist used undercoats to achieve his aim.)

Hard to categorize, Budd’s work differed from both the first and second generations of abstract expressionists, not quite fitting in with either and somewhat falling through the cracks of art history as “this odd character somewhere in between,” says Conetta. But she hopes that exhibitions like this can help give the artist his proper due. “The most important thing is seeing the work,” she says, noting the all-important difference between seeing and merely looking. “Seeing requires that you actually engage with what you’re looking at.”

“Because that’s when the magical details come out.”

David Budd: Motion Within Stillness is currently on display at Sarasota Art Museum.

Pictured: A selection of David Budd's "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Atlantis" series on display at Sarasota Art Museum. Photo: Rich Schineller.

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