Shotgun Review

Flash: New Works by Mary Button Durell

By Alex Bigman June 27, 2012

In the decade preceding her eight-year hiatus, Mary Button Durell developed a distinctive brand of intricate, process-oriented sculpture consisting solely of monochromatic tracing paper and wheat paste. Her fragile constructions unfurl into cellular, organic-looking shapes that, when illuminated, become playgrounds of varying opacity. The artist’s insistence on keeping materials minimal (no wire skeletons, just paper and paste) renders her works architectural feats as well. That Asteroid (1998), an oblong honeycomb of conic paper molds that took two years to complete, manages not to collapse on itself is an amazing (and fortunate) achievement.

Any number of circumstances might produce a gap in an artist’s curriculum vitae. But one would not expect an eight-year absence from someone as prolific and driven as Durell, who for fourteen years maintained a full-time career in fashion in addition to making art, finding time for her craft in the small hours of the morning. Sure enough, the reasons behind Durell’s disappearance turn out to be bizarre and dismaying. In 2003, she found herself the victim of a “sweetheart scam”: her boyfriend of three years was in fact a con artist who, after insidiously capturing her trust, gradually siphoned away her life savings. The ordeal culminated in a mental breakdown for Durell. “I went nuts,” she says, “and they hospitalized me.”

Flash: New Works by Mary Button Durell, now at La Boutique, marks the artist’s return to work—clearly a significant moment in her personal life and her career. In this exhibition, Durell



1. From the author’s interview with the artist, June 10, 2012.

Mary Button Durrel. Asteroid

Mary Button Durell. Asteroid, 1998; tracing paper and wheat paste; 48 x 108 x 42 in; installation view, La Boutique, San Francisco. Courtesy of La Boutique, San Francisco.

employs her familiar materials to explore new planar and three-dimensional forms, including hieroglyphic wall reliefs, stratified topographies, and piled ribbon formations. One bold new addition cannot go unmentioned: color. Fuchsia-tinted light illuminates her impressive Asteroid; hanging before a window, Thick Blue (2012), with its backing of translucent blue film, emits a cool glow; elsewhere, Day-Glo orange paint intensifies the cavities of sculptures like Puzzles (2012). What is more, in Power Source (2012) the artist introduces wire ribbing, a structural addition that opens a world of formal possibilities. All of this work fits squarely with Durell’s preexisting oeuvre. Her horizons, however, have definitively broadened.


Flash: New Works by Mary Button Durell is on view at La Boutique, in San Francisco, through August 2012.


Alex Bigman is a Bay Area-based arts writer focusing on visual art, music, and theater. His work has also appeared in ZYZZYVA, The San Francisco Appeal, and 7x7 Magazine. He holds a BA from UC Berkeley in his personalized field of study, “Cognition in Language and Art.”

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