Fantasy Artist’s Works, National Midyear Exhibition at The Butler

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Butler Institute of American Art is home to dozens of masterpieces, and its galleries regularly host some of the planet’s greatest works.

The artists in the museum’s National Midyear Exhibition might not be in the same stratosphere as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Robert Vonnoh or Norman Rockwell.

But that’s what makes the exhibition so much fun. What it lacks in refinement it makes up in spirit.

The National Midyear is The Butler’s annual juried showcase of some of the nation’s best artists. It opens June 23 in the McIntosh and Finnegan/Hynes galleries and runs through Aug. 11.

This year’s exhibition includes a healthy helping of hyperrealism, eye popping portraits and other daring works, including several abstract paintings.

Now in its 88th year, the exhibition will include 89 works by 79 artists. The artworks were selected by Audrey Flack, curator, who chose them from submissions from 275 artists living throughout the United States and its territories.

Flack, of New York City, is well-known to Butler audiences.

Her 10-foot plaster sculpture of Queen Catherine of Braganza is part of The Butler’s permanent collection. It can be seen on the first floor of the museum.

New this year is a one-person exhibition by the previous year’s winner. The prize was implemented for last year’s Midyear and will feature works by John Jude Palencar, an illustrator and fine artist who lives in Medina.

Palencar is well known among science fiction, horror and fantasy fans.

He was commissioned to paint the 2019 calendar art for George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” series, which inspired HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” He also created the cover art for Christopher Paolini’s “Inheritance Cycle” fantasy novels.

Palencar has appeared multiple times on the Travel Channel’s “Expedition Unknown” series with host Josh Gates for episodes about the book “The Secret,” which gives clues to buried treasures hidden by the author, the late Byron Preiss. Palencar created the illustrations for the book.

Known for his dark and surreal pieces, Palencar’s art has been used for the covers of books by H.P. Lovecraft, Octavia Butler, R.L. Stine, George R.R. Martin, J.R.R Tolkien and Stephen King.

He has created illustrations for Time, Smithsonian and National Georgraphic magazines, and Lucas Arts, Paramount Pictures and Vivendi Universal.

Like the National Midyear, Palencar’s exhibition opens June 23. It will be in the Davis Gallery and includes 17 pieces.

An opening reception for both exhibitions will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 23.

Palencar says he is humbled and honored to be the first person to receive the National Midyear exhibition award.

“It’s one of those occasions where you come full circle,” he said in a phone interview from his home.

“I remember walking into The Butler when I was 16 and seeing my high school art teacher’s art on the wall as part of the National Watercolor Society’s exhibition,” Palencar says. “The Butler is a hidden gem in Ohio, and I feel a kindred spirit to a lot of the art there. My art heroes are in there: Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth…”

Palencar, who did not enter the National Midyear this year, has exhibited his work dozens of times in museums, galleries and universities nationwide. He was the subject of a solo show in 2019 at the Canton Museum of Art.

Palencar has been an illustrator and artist for 40 years. He sees changes coming as the use of artificial intelligence grows but maintains his artistic integrity and technique.

“I paint a lot in layers,” he says, acknowledging that his work shows the influence of Dali, Duer and the Renaissance masters.

A Cleveland native, Palencar says he “came from a middle-class neighborhood where nobody was an artist. Being a practical Midwesterner, I went into illustration because it was a way to make a living.”

He has a special message for fans of “The Secret” who attempt to bribe him for information on where to find the hidden treasures described in the book.

“I can’t help them,” Palencar says, explaining he doesn’t know where the items are buried. “The man who wrote the book died and the secret died with him.”

Of the 12 treasures in the book, only three have been found.

Palencar’s Butler show consists mostly of paintings but includes a handful of illustrations, including the book cover he did for “Eragon,” which was adapted into a 2006 movie.

The cover for the “A Song of Fire and Ice” calendar is also in the exhibition.

Palencar says his artwork is personal, and any themes running through them boil down to faith, belief and mortality.

“I never do a painting with one single meaning,” he says. “I find it more satisfying to mix it up with several concepts that are in the same general region. I like leaving more questions than answers. I like it when people come up to me and tell me what they think it means.”

Pictured at top: “GhostPunch” by John Jude Palencar, a professional artist and illustrator from Medina. Palencar is the first winner of the National Midyear’s top prize: a one-person exhibition at The Butler. “GhostPunch” was declared the winner at last year’s National Midyear. Palencar’s exhibition opens June 23.