Sonny Burt and Bob Butler and their legendary art collection

Always loved this photograph of Sonny Burt (left) and Bob Butler taken by Cheryl Diaz Meyer/’The Dallas Morning News’ archives

The late Sonny Burt and Bob Butler’s legendary art collection is being auctioned off at the Talley Dunn Gallery to benefit Booker T. Washington, school of the Visual and Performing Arts. Six of my pieces of mine are in the auction. Sonny and Bob’s collection was a testament to their befriending young artist, supporting and collecting their work.  I say supporting, because not only did they buy my work

Here is “Fools Game”, 1987, acrylic on board with mixed media as it hung in Sonny and Bob’s library.

but they seemed to have a sixth sense of an artist needs. In the early days, when there were lean times, out of the blue they would call my wife and me up and take us out for a grand dinner and then back to their house to wander  about their collection, then settle in their library for drinks and great conversations.  Sonny loved his art gossip.

They did this type of thing for so many young artist.  They were generous and loyal to a fault.  Their passing left a huge hole in the Dallas art community. It seems only fitting that after their deaths, that their dear vast collection would be sold off to help other young artist.

Sonny and Bob had around ten of my pieces but these six pieces in this auction represent some of the highlights of my work from my earlier periods.  There are a few stories attached to them I would like to share.

My first sale as an artist 

they came in the night
They came in the night, 1982, acrylic on canvas

Sonny and Bob were known for making it to the openings early because Sonny didn’t like crowds and it gave them the time to actually see the art and if they loved it, they bought it on the spot.  On the night of my very first exhibition as a artist at DW gallery, Sonny and Bob bought  “And They Came in the Night.”

My parents were already at the opening when I got there and my father came up to me and said, “Two gay guys just bought your painting.”  Sonny and Bob laughed so hard when I recounted that story to them.

Sonny and Bob were so generous in opening up their home to allow people in to see their collection.  

I believe their mission was two fold.  They wanted to showcase the young artist that they collected and they wanted people to see what it was like to live with art. They opened up their home to countless artist, teachers who brought their classes, art patrons and arts groups.

Here is one of my sculptural pieces exhibited with “Christo and Jeanne-Claude.”

Another really important point was the way they hung their collection was so empowering to the young artist.  I would go to their house and find my work hung with already established Texas and international artist.

In 1993 I had a group of recently graduated St. John’s alums work for me in my studio as studio assistants.  I thought that they would love going through Sonny and Bob’s collection so I asked them if I could bring my students by.  Sonny said absolutely and that he would even remove the more “naughty” work for my tour.

We arrived at Sonny and Bob’s house and Sonny greeted us at the door, invited us in and asked us all to remove our shoes.  I had prepared my students for what they were about to experience but nothing really prepares you for the avalanche of art that you started experiencing as soon as you walked through their front door.  They couldn’t control their amazement.

After a warm welcome Sonny left me with my group of students and a few of their mother’s to tour them around there collection.

Their collection was a virtual “who’s who” of contemporary Texas art.

From the front foyer you could see out into their backyard and see my piece, “The Human Cannonball.”

human cannonball
“The Human Cannonball” painted cast iron.

Every young artist should have collectors that have a rivalry between them.  At this same time I had a collector in Chicago.  I had sent slides of the “Human Cannonball to both Sonny and Bob and the collector in Chicago.  Sonny and Bob responded first and that weekend they came over and outright bought the piece out of my studio before it was even finished, for their anniversary gift.  The next day I get a phone call from Chicago saying that he wanted to buy the piece.  I had to tell him that Sonny and Bob got it first.  “Damn them……..I want a bigger cannon than theirs.”  The next year I created a even larger cannon for the collector in Chicago.  Oh to have collectors like that now.


As I continued to tour my group of students through Sonny and Bob’s collection we turned to the dinning room and there hung my piece “The Illusiveness of Illusions” which hung between a Vernon Fisher and a David Gilhooly.1979248_467030496730048_1598019105_o (1)

My students gathered round  the painting as I said, “And here is another of one of my pieces, “The Illusiveness of Illusions” painted in…………….

My students were studying the piece intently and then looking at me………looking at the piece and then looking at me……….. And I’m standing there talking about art historical references and influences. illusiveness of illusions (1)

I am sometimes a little slow on the uptake but soon realized no amount of art historical references and influences mattered and promptly said… moving on.

myddarker side

The last piece of mine on the auction block is “My Darker Side came unraveled.”

The piece was about the time I drove my piece, “Rites of Passage” down to New Orleans to install at the now closed Tilden Foley gallery.  It was a long tiring trip and the person who was suppose to meet me at the gallery was not there and this was in the days before cell phones so I had no way to contact them that I had arrived.  It was miserably hot and at one point lost my temper and in my frustration I’m embarrassed to say I kicked the truck and broke my foot.  I don’t believe I evered kicked a truck after that but it did inspire this piece.

It’s always sad to see a collection broken up but hopefully I will soon have six new collectors.  I continue to miss Sonny Burt and Bob Butler deeply.  They had that way of making you and what you did feel important.  But like I said in the beginning, it seems only fitting that the sales of their collection will benefit young artist who attend Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Hope to see you at Talley Dunn Gallery next Saturday night, June 25th.  Come buy art…it ought to be a great evening.


For more information on this auction please visit:  Talley Dunn Gallery



One thought on “Sonny Burt and Bob Butler and their legendary art collection

  1. Thank you for the perspective on your time with Sonny and Bob. I was a friend for 30 years. Their passion for art and artists was intoxicating.


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