In this exhibition, the artist expands her initial building material to include marine debris collected from the shores of Alaska and British Columbia, much of it likely swept to sea by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While on a trip to Iceland, Butterfield had noticed plastic, foam and metallic pieces washed upon its beaches. She collected some and experimented with the materials when she returned to her studio. Eventually, after researching government efforts to reduce the marine debris currently floating in the Pacific Ocean, the artist was able collect some of the flotsam for use in these sculptures, hoping to bring attention to the ecological impact these materials have upon our oceans and sea-life. For the most part, the marine debris is cast in bronze along with the wood.
One large sculpture in this show will be made up of bronze and the actual plastic and foam debris. Installed in our back gallery, this horse stands surrounded by driftwood, scraps of foam, old buoys, and other detritus such as a plastic gas can, rubber boots and building material.
Recent sculptures by Butterfield have incorporated sticks and branches laying beneath or leaning up against the main figure. These separate pieces give the impression the horse is rising from the ground, the scattered pieces assembling themselves into this large animal. Similarly, this horse rises from the materials covering the floor, but it also appears to contemplates the existence of the refuse from which it is created.
Deborah Butterfield was born in San Diego, California in 1949. She received her BA and MFA from UC Davis. Butterfield's work has been featured in over 50 museum exhibitions. In the last several years she has had one-person exhibitions at: The University Art Museum, University of Louisiana, Lafayette; The Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu; Tucson Museum of Art; Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA; Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV and The Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach.
Butterfield’s work is included in the permanent collections of several major museums, including: The Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Baltimore Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum;The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu; National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; San Diego Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Seattle Art Museum; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Since 1980, Butterfield has been constructing life-size horses from sticks and plant material from which she creates a casting in bronze at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington State. Butterfield sculpts the original work by fastening logs, branches, sticks, planks, and boards onto a pre-welded bronze armature that gives the basic posture of the particular horse. Molds are made for each chunk of wood piece by piece, the burnable elements are covered with heat resistant plaster and then baked in a furnace until the wood completely burns away. Molten bronze is then poured into the recesses left by the wood. When the plaster is chipped away, the wooden piece has been refashioned exactly in bronze—right down to the grain of the wood. Since the wood is destroyed and the plaster is discarded in the casting process, each sculpture is unique and cannot be duplicated. The work is reassembled in bronze and intricately patinated to suggest the original wood used in making the sculpture.