I’ll admit it–my job is all about voyeurism. Particularly during Luxury Home Tour time, when I get to pre-tour most of the $million-dollar-plus homes and run my hands over the granite countertops, inspect soaring natural stone fireplaces, and roll around on custom, hand-tufted rugs. (Okay, maybe not that last thing…).
By far, my most favorite thing on the tour this year is the Beer Can Butterfly Wall… It’s a custom art installation by Long Island artist Paul Villinski, who flew into Minnesota last week to apply each butterfly, one by one, to a curved wall. One of the homeowners, Nancy, saw the artist’s work in Metropolitan Home magazine, and was inspired. Her husband, Jerry—in part to celebrate their recent 37th anniversary—gave her this stunning piece of art as a gift.
Here’s how it works: the artist scours around the streets of New York City for beer cans. He particularly likes the ones that have been run over, trampled on, or otherwise abused because they have interesting patterns and dents in the aluminum. Then he cuts the silhouettes of butterflies from the beer cans, using actual species from around the world as his inspiration. Next, he holds the aluminum butterflies over an open flame, allowing the shape to gather black soot and slightly charred edges. He finishes each one with a layer of clear lacquer, and then travels to each installation site to apply the butterflies using what look like extra-long straight pins. All told, Villinski says, each installation is at least a couple hundred hours of work, and sometimes much more than that, depending on the size or complexity. “I never know what the final piece is going to look like until I arrive,” says Villinski.
The artist told me that he didn’t always do the black soot step. When he was first experimenting with using beer cans in his art, he would leave the labels exposed. But then, a few years ago, one of his exhibitions was traveling in a car that crashed and caught on fire. (Thankfully, no one was hurt.) Most of Villinski’s piece was ruined, but a few of the butterflies had been nicely charred and blackened. “I realized that these burned butterflies were so much more beautiful and interesting than what I had been doing,” he says. He went through a long phase trying to duplicate the smoky sensuousness of those burned butterflies with little success. “I’d put them under a broiler for six hours, I’d take a blowtorch to them—nothing seemed to look quite right,” he says. Finally, he tried just holding them over an open flame. He got the right look—but it’s a fantastically laborious process.
See Villinski’s installation at the Aulik & Associates house on the Luxury Home Tour. The show starts this weekend!!