Nestled away from the sounds of the city, an art studio sits in Ogden’s foothills. To the average eye, it masks itself as a beautiful house, with architecture unlike others in the area. The studio was designed and built by the artist who works in it, Paul Butler. The windows supply views of both Mt. Ben Lomond and the city, contrasted to serve as inspiration for his various projects. A model bed and track lighting embellish the space for live reference models to comfortably be drawn or painted. There are two large easels, never bare of canvas and photos of landscapes in view to be referenced. Despite the visionary brain being unsettled on a single project, things are organized and each piece will be labeled and numbered upon completion. The studio walls have seen hundreds of projects started over the years. Brush strokes become mountains and bodies of water. Charcoal smudges become limbs and hair. Camera clicks become muses. Blueprints become buildings. Many of them come to fruition, while others are left as ideas and first drafts. A Mt. Dew is on hand almost exclusively with Butler, whether he is in a backhoe building a waterfall on his property or creating masterpieces inside. The day’s music plays from an extensive CD collection or the radio, with the artist’s favorite songs traveling with him and his two sons, Paul Brandon and Brett Harrison, on road trips through the Rocky Mountain region. Butler encourages them to build and exercise their creativity and bonds with them through it. They build a pirate-themed treehouse together, which will act as a meeting place for the boys and their father throughout their childhoods. Butler’s art and fatherhood exist alongside one another. He logs, in the same book he marks time working on personal projects, “Helped Paul Brandon with finishing a painting of a mountainscape — it’s a commission piece for his teacher! He did it all I helped with a few last touches.”
This is how Paul Brandon Butler Jr. remembers his father.
Paul Butler grew up in Utah and spent the majority of his life in the Ogden area. His creativity blossomed from an early planted seed, coming from a family of builders and real estate developers. Some believe art is a learned skill, but in regards to Butler, it is hard to disregard the idea that he may have been destined for it. He created paintings as a child, which grew with him through high school. He was named “Sterling Scholar” for his artistic excellence and won a state-wide art competition in his teenage years. He took college art classes into adulthood, but did not obtain a degree. He was largely self-taught and learned through experimentation and study, but found a mentor and a friend in Utah State University professor and nationally recognized painter Harrison Groutage. “[Groutage] was a huge inspiration to my dad,” Butler Jr. says. He remembers visiting the Groutage home in Logan with his father and brother, Brett Harrison Butler, who was named in honor of Groutage. Butler and Groutage remained friends until the latter passed away in 2013.
Butler was a remarkable architect. His designs, which can still be found standing, are modern and surprising, but still somehow classic and elegant. Adorned in loud shapes, unique lighting and splashes of unexpected color, the buildings feel imaginative the way museums do. At a distant glance, the facades show layers of decks and railings, doors and windows — but with a closer look, the depth is even more profound. Both Butler’s residence and studio are placed in secluded areas with gorgeous views of the landscape. You can see your surroundings from all over the inside of the house and natural light is in abundance. The designs make perfect sense for an artist, especially one who paints landscapes the way Butler painted them.
“He described his landscape oil paintings as ’gutty.’ He wanted to capture emotion in his paintings in a way that couldn’t only be captured in a photo,” Butler Jr. says. Butler’s landscape works received various awards and publications, one of which landed a space in the Eccles Art Center, where it still remains.
Butler created many pieces in different mediums featuring bodies, with his depictions being tasteful, emotive and honorary. He frequently drew nude subjects, both in full body and detail shots. The drawings are intentional and relatable. The body-language means something. The shadows speak. The angles are stories. Body-centric photography also engaged Butler for a large portion of his life, which led to his most recognized work, The Wendover Project. Aimed at promoting body-positivity, The Wendover Project was an annual experience for 25 years, featuring hundreds of naked women with their entire bodies painted, gathered in the middle of the desert and photographed. In an interview with People magazine in 2017, Butler said he often heard women express a dislike of their body when he would hire studio models for his nude drawings. Determined to make a difference, Butler started with one woman whom he painted bright red and photographed. It grew each year, each event themed differently and featuring a variety of women, some appearing only once while others returned for multiple shoots. “I want them to go away feeling that there are no good or bad bodies — that every body should be celebrated and that women should love who they are,” he told People Magazine. The 20th Wendover Project photo shows each woman painted as a Roman statue, which was a nod to the Romans’ appreciation and admiration of all human bodies. Participants were volunteers and would help paint one another. They report Butler’s mission as successful. They left feeling empowered, beautiful and liberated. Butler Jr. says, “The body-centric photography was what I feel he had the most passion for throughout his life because he was able to provide a safe space for people to be comfortable with their bodies as they were transformed into a work of art.”
Butler was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which affected his ability to create for the last portion of his life; but even still, his final Wendover Project took place less than a year before he passed in 2022.
Paul Butler’s impact will live on through his art, his sons, his stories, and the changes he created. Art can change the world and the ripple effect of Butler’s work will prove that for years to come. Butler Jr. says, “We are grateful for the good times we had with him that we’ll be able to cling to for life — in moments where we’re looking for inspiration or encouragement.”
Butler’s sons will celebrate his life and art with a celebration of life at Ogden’s Eccles Art Center Saturday, Oct. 8 from 1-6 p.m. They will hold a memory share and a premier exhibition of art which will be available for purchase. Butler Jr. will continue to post Butler’s works in legacy format on Instagram and online at paulbutlerartworks.square.site.