Exposing the Unseen
Words by Holly Moore
Photos by Julia Britt
On the outskirts of the unincorporated community of Seale, between Alabama and Georgia, a world-renowned artist lives on his granddaddy’s farm with his mother and an old friend. His name is Butch Anthony, and his unique craft has been centered on recycling everything he can by turning into highly sought-after art.
If an artist can be compared to a master gardener, then Butch has the greenest of thumbs. With a love of nature, he allows his art to grow organically while also reusing whatever he can find, from sticks gnawed by beavers, shark teeth, and abandoned hummingbird nests to butter churns and old license plates. He even finds his paint on the side of the road. Without hesitation, he will add embroidery to a painting that he’s found or take old, rather spooky portraits, and painting partial skeletons over them. His pile of materials is ever-growing, with people bringing him old paintings from motels or odd antiquities that he can use—even taxidermy. He explains that “most of the stuff I want, nobody ever wants.” By mixing so many different materials and mediums, his art reveals interconnectivity, an artistic style he describes as “intertwangleism.”
Ever since Butch was a child, he’s loved bones. As a teen, he found dinosaur bones in a creek on his family’s property; the tale of his discovery ended up in the newspaper and helped him to secure a scholarship to Auburn University. While at university, Butch studied paleontology. While he will always be exploring bones in his art pieces, he would also like to further his work to include veins, which would allow it to be more three dimensional.
Butch is self-taught, and his skills go beyond painting. At 14, he built the first studio for his art. Eventually, he would build his own air-conditioned home as well. His art fills each of the rooms. The exterior of his home is a stacked combination of mirrors and logs, giving it the illusion of being part of the woods that surround it. A large rock that once sat in Margaret Mitchell’s yard sits in his driveway.
While Butch prefers a simple life and spends much of his time in the woods, he remains a lifelong learner. While working on his projects, he listens to audiobooks—up to three a week. He’s listened to Walden by Henry David Thoreau almost a hundred times.
When discussing his art, Butch speaks of it with fondness and respect. He explains, “They go out in the world—they’re everywhere.”
With exhibitions all over the world, including two at London’s famous Black Rat Projects, he’s not mistaken. He also joined with long-time friend and filmmaker Harrold Blank to create Camp Butch, a weekend event produced yearly by Design Build Adventure in Austin. Due to his growing popularity and the number of visitors he was receiving, Butch built a fence to guard his property, which led him to build the first-ever drive-thru art museum.
He says about a hundred cars drive through each day. Visitors and patrons can stop by Seale, Alabama, to see his work, and he can continue creating relatively undisturbed. Lining the driveway are old boxcars filled with odd collections of paintings and rocks. Some visitors have even added graffiti to the boxcars. Butch seems to appreciate the ever-growing and communal beauty of it all.
On any given Friday evening, Butch and other local folk can be found hanging out at the Possum Trot. In the 70s, it was his dad’s barbecue joint, but today it is home to a weekly auction. Butch jokes that the only college in Seale is the “college of knowledge, where the locals sit around and tell bullshit stories.” Quite regularly, out-of-towners will join the evening affair. There’s also a camper that sits in the woods behind the Possum Trot that Butch rents out—the only hotel in the area.
One of the well-known locals, John Henry, lives on Butch’s property as well. He is also an artist and can often be found sitting and doodling outside the local gas station. His black leather chair has his name painted on it in white letters, and he has 90 years of experience to share, which he’s always willing to do.
Dressed in his signature overalls and boots, Butch gets to work. Nothing is too weird to be included in his art, and each of his pieces has a different story to tell—sometimes one that he didn’t know they needed to say. He cultivates their voices, allowing them to grow into whatever they need to be.