Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Essence: The Horses of Deborah Butterfield

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park presents the landmark retrospective of Deborah Butterfield’s celebrated work. “Essence: The Horses of Deborah Butterfield,” on display January 27 through April 29, highlights the singular focus of the sculptor’s work since the mid-1970s. Known for her incredible craftsmanship and creative use of materials, Butterfield is among the most respected and acclaimed artists of her generation.

“Throughout the history of art, the horse has been the primary subject of painted and sculpted work,” said Joseph Becherer, Vice President and Chief Curator of Horticulture and Sculpture. “The horse’s role in society was greatly reduced in the 20th century with the rise of the automobile. Likewise, the emergence of abstract and non-representational imagery in the visual arts made equine imagery seem decidedly antiquated, even irrelevant. Until Deborah Butterfield.”

Eleven major works spanning four decades of Butterfield’s career are the focus of her first major Midwest exhibition in recent years. Both large scale and pedestal-size horses explore the breadth of her career and inventive scope of creativity. Butterfield’s willingness to explore a variety of materials is evident: utilizing mud, straw and clay in her early work, and more recently, found objects, wood, welded steel and bronze.

“The first thing that I saw in my life that I remembered looking important and wonderful was a horse; I was just moved by them in a non-rational, passionate way before I even had words to describe them,” said Butterfield.

Initially torn between veterinary medicine and art, Butterfield earned her BFA and MFA from University of California, Davis. Although her passion began as a child, she purchased her first horse during her undergraduate work, while she studied ceramics. Horses have been her primary subject ever since.

In contrast to the stallions, warhorses and sentinels of art history, Butterfield largely concentrates on the female counterpart and specific horses with which she has developed a personal relationship. The works aren’t portraits in the traditional sense, but representations of the essence of the creature, physically and psychologically.

“It is not merely the physical presence of such noble creatures she hopes to convey, but their spirit and energy as well,” said Becherer. “In concentrating so fully and effectively on a single theme, Butterfield enables one to develop a great appreciation and sensitivity to both materials and form, but ultimately to the spirit and personality of the horse she celebrates.”

This exhibition is sponsored by The Meijer Foundation, Steelcase Inc. and the Botanic and Sculpture Societies of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

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