Commentaries on the Hockey Collages of Paul Butler
by Jeanne Randolph
1. While you see a player run on his blades
The hat you are wearing isn’t the puck
The transparent skating isn’t your skill
The rink that is roaring isn’t your ice
The stare of the faithful isn’t your eyesore
The puck in the spotlight isn’t your ticket
The long-muscle leg isn’t your hip hop
The game’s not found on your Via Negativa
2. Anticipate the moment that bursts into splinters
Are four snow legs good ahead of their shadows?
Is a Victoriaville flapjack flipped off the frost?
Will rushing white veils sting like behemoth?
Has CCM spun six five holes madly?
Will the net jump for a black Tacks collision?
Are red lines on ice an allusion to blood?
Does the Red Kelly name bring double double?
“Petals on a wet black bough” (Ezra Pound)
It was the faces of crowds that shone like pale lilies
It was the throats filled with breath singing like air brakes
It was the eyes of all colours that closed and were wide
It was the ear of the captain whose hearing was lupine
It was the lens of the camera, the extension of Man
It was Marchand’s body laughing with pain
It was invisible heartbeats speeding like fuck
When they skim to position, a play to the net
There’s not one distinguished away from the flurry
Is this a beast with hind limbs of a lion
And the one with the broad head of an eagle,
And the eagle’s cruel beak, its marvellous talons
With wings of the eagle, these men are a body
Superior, the Griffin that moves with a purpose
Flies coast to coast with invisible speed—“Beauty!”
By Guy Maddin
I’ve been trying to make collages at Paul Butler’s side since 2007, when we co-hosted some half-dozen artmaking events over a period of 18 months. I had my selfish reasons for working with him. For years I’d heard of Paul’s collage parties and their Utopian atmospheres—cleanly designed pop-up studios in novel locales, super-talented artists for convivial company, dreamily curated music spun out on vinyl, therapeutically long hours in which one’s mind or scissors could wander with absolute freedom into the most zen regions of invention, accompanied by mountains of munchies, rivers of drink, lotsa laffs. Happenings of perfection!
By then I’d been making my own indie or underground movies for 20 years, and though I had often rolled my camera in the stressful, compromised or even enraging situations typical of filmmaking, I remained an incurable Utopian. Not only was I convinced I could transplant to my movie sets the same chill productive vibe Paul created for his parties, but I got it into my naïve head that I could exploit collage itself and write the script for my next film by eschewing words entirely in favour of images—collaged image originals!—cleverly resulting in a screenplay’s beginning, middle and end.
We had a lot of fun trying—gosh, what a mind- and time-expanding intoxication each party was—but the script I eventually fashioned out of my scissory, gluey efforts was terrible. Elusive Utopia. I had no idea what I was doing wrong. Paul tried to mentor me through my struggles, which seemed to originate in my inability to understand exactly what it is collage can do.
Then in 2011 the NHL returned to Winnipeg. Paul, a lifelong Jets fan who had mourned the team’s departure to Phoenix for nearly half his life, made an ingenious tweak to his Nirvana. He honoured the simple pleasures of his youth, installed a TV set at his collage events and turned the dial to hockey. Hockey! Maybe no one remembers the seven-layer dips of playoff years gone by, but the simple act of turning on that TV was the seventh layer that put everything over.
My collage work was still terrible. An admirer of the powerful effects Paul could attain with just one or two moves and gorgeously inexplicable cutting lines, I imitated him. But owing to a deficiency of skill, imagination and taste, I kept making the same piece over and over, work that never failed to feature one of the Three Stooges sliced with brutal imprecision from his accustomed context and pasted into the middle of a JMW Turner seascape.
I never understood what I was trying to do, but Paul, inspirited anew, his pulse quickened by the pace of the sport recently restored to him, evolved into a visionary seer of hockey, now granted seemingly exclusive communion with our country’s national game. He loomed the work with conviction out of the images bestowed to him directly from Gump Worsley, Turk Broda, Carl Brewer and other thunderous denizens of our Shinny Olympus. Some of the source material used by Paul in his assemblages dates from his early childhood, but most of it is material from his idyllic pre-history, the late ’50s and mid-’60s, a time when most of the NHL’s photodocumentation was an ultra-noir black & white reminiscent of a Weegee crime scene tableau. In the collages you see in this Portfolio, Paul repurposes those rare glimpses of the hockey period captured on Ektachrome. I have no idea how the photographers of these original images found enough light in the shadowy arenas for this notoriously slow film stock—maybe the images were captured during those rare occasions when the league experimented with using extra banks of super-nova stadium lighting required for the colour television broadcasts to come years down the road. Regardless, what resulted was as precious and fragile as a robin’s egg, as delicate as a child’s happiest dream.
The cuts in Paul’s hockey work, skate-blade turns and arcs, compelled by the speed of action, nets ripped from their posts, the cool breath rising from candy-sleek sheets of ice to commingle with fans residing both outside and inside the silhouettes of players, quickly coalesced into an honest poetry about Paul’s love of the game that goes beyond arena or television and into the bedroom of a boy.
The work is pure synecdoche; gloves and sticks stand in for the man. The fans, boards, ice-paint and netting from multiple eras and cities exist simultaneously inside the same space, the outlines of athletes removed to create a presence you feel way more than if Red Kelly, Marcel Pronovost or other Original Six players were left to represent their glorious selves in all their literal mortality. These great players have given themselves to Paul so he might destroy their images and turn them into pure song. It seemed like all Paul did was turn on a TV set. I wish it were that simple. ❚