Tom Butler's recent Grotesques series unites a common 19th century photographic sensibility with a contemporary edge of disquiet that draws its viewer into dueling gazes back and forth between the 'sitters' and the patron, in a confrontation between sublime monsters and dark transformations.Simultaneously, small miniature paintings and cabinet cards rendered in shiny albumen, boast faces that become demons, wild eyed face masks, and mortal talismans. Hair, orifices, beasts neither human nor animal, we recognize but do not quite believe nor exactly know what to make of these unknowable creatures. Yet they remain docile and hypnotic and lull us to complacency. It is forgivable if you do not recognize the objects. Underneath the transforming elements of Butler's treatment and skill as a miniaturist is a 19th century cabinet card or portrait card. This thin photograph is in the albumen process and silver which is then toned in gold chloride metals and mounted onto cards. In the 1860's these were literally handed out as announcement cards for visitors and, depending on the personality on the card, wildly collected by the public, these objects held a vernacular currency in their day – certainly in Victorian Europe but also in America. The wild masks of hair become portals to inner psychologies not totally articulated to the viewer. Instead, one must find one's own solution to these strange feelings. Often the hair deliberately overcomes the face and appears to grow unchecked before our eyes. Then it is a patchwork cloak with the proper staid quality of the poised portrait working to subdue the terror of being enveloped and changed. We teeter between understanding these portraits as someone's extended family - perhaps forgotten or anonymous. The portraits appear frozen in amber, tightly held in check, and unable to break from their captors. A special permanent gaze is suggested as we peer inwardly to figures struggling yet unable to tell us more. Tom Butler is a British artist now residing in Rockland, Maine. He earned his MFA in 2007 from Slade School of Fine Art. More work can be seen at tombutlerstudio.com or at Susan Maasch Fine Art in Portland, Maine.