Controversial Axolotl to close as impresario fights stomach cancer

Derek Butter and Sarah Wilson's gallery will close
Derek Butter and Sarah Wilson's gallery will close
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THE owner of a controversial art gallery is being forced to close the doors on the business that he loves after learning he is dying of cancer.

Derek Butter, 46, said the Axolotl Gallery in Dundas Street will shut down in April so he can spend his last few months with his family.

The father-of-four, who is battling stomach cancer, had been undergoing tests for suspected ulcers or gall bladder problems when doctors detected an inoperable tumour shortly before Christmas.

An aficionado of classical art, Mr Butter fulfilled a long-held dream of launching his own gallery space two years ago – alongside partner Sarah Wilson – having worked for two decades as a spokesman for energy and metals firm Wood and Mackenzie.

Since the venue opened in 2010, Axolotl Gallery has championed dozens of emerging artists and hit the headlines last July with an exhibition which featured a drawing of Michael Jackson on a cross.

Mr Butter, who lives in Leith with Ms Wilson, said he was “sad” to close the gallery but was left with little option.

“Unfortunately when I learned about my cancer it was quite late on, so I have what’s called stage four cancer which is when it’s spread,” he said. “There’s nothing much they can do apart from treating the effects and slow it down a bit but at that stage it’s just a matter of time for me. As much as we love running the gallery, you have other things that you want to do.”

Originally from Kirkcaldy but a Capital resident for 25 years, Mr Butter said his late foray into the art world had been a “complete departure” from his professional life in the oil and gas industry.

“I had some shares in the company I worked for and I had a chat with Sarah when I sold those about what we really wanted to do,” he said.

“Sarah is a practising artist, and I’ve always been very interested in the arts which is why we thought we would have a go running an Edinburgh gallery. It was a dream for us and I’m sure at a later stage Sarah will possibly go back to it herself but in the circumstances we can’t really keep it up, so I’m sad that we are closing but we had good fun along the way.”

Ms Wilson said the gallery was distinctive and had created a “real buzz” but added that news of Mr Butter’s illness had changed their priorities. “Suddenly everything stops, like a huge boulder has just dropped in front of us and we can’t go through it and can’t get round it,” she said.

A mixed collection featuring oil paintings and an installation is the final exhibition hosted by the gallery until next month.

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com