Ra Butler is a Tulsa based monster artist and monster rights activist who works in mixed traditional media, digital art, and resin casting. She is known for advocating for mental health, neurodiversity, body positivity, and self-esteem.
Ra Butler was born in a small town in Northeastern Oklahoma, and spent much of her childhood very isolated. She was homeschooled with her sister and attended a conservative church.
"My world was very small. I was only allowed to watch a few shows. I was agoraphobic, and suffered from a lot of anxiety and pseudo-hallucinations."
Ra is Autistic, though at the time, she had no diagnosis or treatment. She became extremely ill around age 6 and says that it had a lasting impact.
"Everything revolved around fear. I had and still have several phobias. I was afraid of pictures in books, afraid of movies and people--mostly I was afraid to die. I became very aware of my mortality, which was really driven home by the doctrines of hell and apocalyptic end times that I was exposed to."
As Ra grew up she had a lot of struggles, socially and emotionally, with high school being a particularly difficult time period. Incidentally, this was also when she discovered her artistic talent. Moving from homeschooling to a public school with roughly 1500 students was extremely challenging, especially for a young person with autism, but it did have it's brighter moments.
"My first class on my first day was art. Immediately my teacher saw that I had potential and I am so grateful for that. I had always been creative and wanted to share my ideas with others, but I had no idea I was artistic. In fact, at the time, I wanted to be an engineer!"
Ra received her first paid illustration job at 14, and continued to pursue art, both as a craft and a therapeutic experience.
"I would not have made it through high school without my art classes. Sometimes the only thing that got me through the day was knowing I had my independent study art classes. It kept me centered during a very chaotic time in my life."
During that time, Ra had several close family members diagnosed with mental illnesses and began seeking treatment herself. She continues to focus on destigmatizing mental illness through her work, as it is has affected her and her family so much.
"Everyone in my home was affected by mental illnesses in some way and it was always a struggle. People often misunderstand the nature of mental illnesses or cognitive differences, and as an autistic person who does not seem "classically autistic" to many people, I'm actually in a great position to help people understand what it can look like to think differently."
Feeling different has been a major theme in Ra's artistic work, as it has led her to pursue expressing herself through the imagery of monsters, skulls, and other things people may feel uncomfortable with.
Ra studied at several universities but due to health challenges, was not able to finish her degree program. Instead, she has focused on building relationships with other artists and people in her community and developing a distinct style and focus to her art.
"I consider myself primarily a monster artist. I feel like I don't so much design them as give a form and a voice to a creature that was already out there, longing to be heard. I want my monsters to let people have outlets for their feelings, to take them to a secret and magical world, and to be their friends when they need a buddy who knows what it's like to be different. I want my life story to be written in monsters."