Gallery Paule Anglim


May 13, 2023

Kenneth Baker

“Butterfield at Anglim: Consistency on an artist's part can look safe or rote in a society hooked on novelty. Some people probably view Deborah Butterfield's work the same way, as some do Judd's, because she has confined herself to one subject -- the horse -- for about 30 years. When will she move on?

Only someone who takes Butterfield's sculptures for generic inventions rather than portraits would ask. Horses as individuals, to anyone who knows them as Butterfield does, will always surpass the powers of sculpture to depict them.

Anyway, "depiction" only names the broad sense of Butterfield's task. Finding and assembly take much more effort, as her primary materials are scrap metal and deadwood.

Seeing in such scavenged stuff the makings of an animal portrait defines a special gift.

In Butterfield's finest pieces, such as the small-scale bronze, "Gracie" (2006), the components seem to have assembled themselves magically into the likeness of an animal. Just try imagining it disassembled and facing the task of reconstructing it.

Butterfield complicates the representational depth of her work by casting its components (even the steel elements in one case) in bronze, which then requires masterly chasing and patina. "Gracie" makes an especially wonderful example because its stick forms look like brush and ink strokes drawn in space by a fluent hand.

The current show presents Butterfield at the top of her form, in more than one scale, but it contains signs of struggle. Not even she hits the target every time. Often enough, though.”