Roger Butler joined the National Gallery of Australia in 1981 as the inaugural Curator of Australian Prints, Posters and Illustrated Books. The Department was amalgamated with that of Australian Drawings, Watercolours and Sketchbooks in 1997 and he became Senior Curator of Australian Prints and Drawings.
During his years at the National Gallery Roger Butler established the foremost collection of prints, posters and book arts of the Australasian region. The collection now numbers over 37,000 prints from Australia (including Aboriginal Australia), Aotearoa New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. The Drawing collection now holds over 30,000 works, including watercolours and artists' sketchbooks. The acquisition and promotion of the print collection has been facilitated through the Gordon Darling Australia Pacific Print Fund.
Roger Butler has written widely on Australian prints, curated exhibitions and lectured on the subject as well as participating in arts organisations. Major exhibitions and publications include Thea Proctor, the prints, with Jan Minchin (1981), The prints of Margaret Preston (1987, revised 2005); Poster art in Australia (1995), Sydney by design, wood and linocuts by Sydney women artists between the wars (1995), The Europeans: Emigre artists in Australia 1930-60 (1997), Islands in the sun: Prints by indigenous artists of Australia and the Australasian region (2001), place made: Australian Print Workshop (2004), The story of Australian printmaking 1801 - 1901 (2005) and Stars in the river: The prints of Jessie Traill (2013).
He has written a three volume history of printmaking in Australia: Printed images in colonial Australia 1801-1901 (2007), Printed images by Australian artists 1885-1955 (2007), and most recently Printed images by Australian artists 1942-2020 (2021). In 2016 Butler together with Elspeth Pitt curated the exhibition and edited the publication Mike Parr: Language and chaos.
Roger Butler is the initiator and has been the convenor of the Australian Print Symposiums held at the National Gallery every three years since 1989. In 1997 he initiated the WEB access project Prints and Printmaking, in 2001 The Gordon Darling Fellowship for the study of Australasian Prints, and in 2002 the Gordon Darling Graduate Internship. All are key initiatives in making the Australian print collection at the National Gallery widely known and accessible.
His interest in Australia's position in the Asia/Pacific region is reflected in the NGA department's acquisitions, lecturing and travelling exhibitions over the last four decades. The exhibition Islands in the sun: Prints by indigenous artists of Australia and the Australasian region, travelled to Papua New Guinea, Aotearoa New Zealand, New Caledonia as well as mainland Australia. Roger Butler has presented exhibitions of Australian prints in all states of Australia as well as in Thailand, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Aotearoa New Zealand and New Caledonia. He was a Commissioner for the 7th Asian Art Biennial Bangladesh, 1995 and the Busan International Print Art Festival 2005 in South Korea. He has also presented workshops in various aspects of museology and professional practice in Australia, Thailand and the Australasian region.
Roger Butler has a particular interest in access initiatives for large works on paper collections, the most ambitious of which is prints and printmaking (established 1997). It brings together artists, their works, the exhibitions in which they were represented, galleries and references. Prior to this he had explored other ways of disseminating information as widely as possible. In 1989 he utilised microfiche in conjunction with a printed catalogue, research was first published as a CD rom in 1992. In 2002 he was awarded a Gordon Darling Foundation overseas travel grant to look at innovative means of making collections accessible. He was the NGA's representative to the National Library of Australia initiative Pictureaustralia and was on the working party of the University of New South Wales Dictionary of Australian Art Online (DAAO).
A past President of the Print Council of Australia (1986-90) Roger was an editor of their magazine Imprint (1987-90). He also served on the board of Studio One Inc printmaking workshop, Canberra (1987-95).
After his secondary school studies at Macleod High School, Roger graduated in sculpture at Prahran Technical College, Melbourne, he then undertook post-graduate studies at the National Gallery of Victoria School (now Victorian College of the Arts) and secondary education studies at The Hawthorn Teachers College, Melbourne. After travelling in Europe in the early 1970s he started to systematically research the history of prints and printmaking in Australia. He later worked freelance, writing catalogues for Deutscher Fine Arts in the late 1970s. He also undertook occasional work for public galleries and was the curator of a major touring exhibition Melbourne woodcuts and linocuts for the Australian Galleries Directors Council in 1981.
On Australia Day, 26 January 2011, Roger Butler was appointed a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia 'For service to the visual arts'.