Found Metal & Cast Bronze Sculpture
Deborah Butterfield, Untitled #2155 (1999)
original wood maquette for casting
into patinated unique bronze
What strikes me about Deborah Butterfield's horses is how she can bring to bear the most sophisticated methods and materials of contemporary, abstract sculpture while retaining the physical and psychic presence of individual animals in discrete moments of time.
Theories abound about the symbolic meanings of Butterfield's horses: as feminist and political statements; as postmodernist and post-industrial tracts; as portraits of concentrated power and supine acquiescence; grace and pathos; balanced mass, line and surface perched on incredible, slender stilts.
"To imagine a language," she says, "is to imagine a form of life," and to this end Butterfield (self-confessed "horse girl") has spent a lifetime in a "dialogue with another species," particularly through the wordless experience of dressage, the guiding of a horse through a series of complex manoeuvres by slight movements of the legs, hands and weight.
Art is equally a wordless experience, but through years of meditatively transliterating the horse essence, first in lumps of adobe, sticks and grasses, then in assemblages of weathered wood, organic fibres, wire and polychromed junkyard metal, and finally in patinated bronze castings taken from each element of a wooden maquette and welded identically back into form, Butterfield has learned the myriad dynamics of this ancient and beautiful creature who became mankind's most "willing slave."
Artistic naturalism has never been her objective. She sees the body of the horse as the "gesture" of her work and the actual movement of the horse as being internalized within the body, contained like a painting within a frame. What is perhaps most striking about Butterfield's pieces is the utter aptness of her found materials. To see muscle, viscera, tendon, bone, and skin -- or for that matter, an entire neck, flank, or hunk of draped hide -- where others see only junk is this assemblagist's "Midas touch."
© Ted Lindberg