Deborah Butterfield MMoCA Collects

Dapple Gray

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Deborah Butterfield, Dapple Gray, wire and steel, 1980.

Deborah Butterfield's horse is a standing mare. Its remarkable presence comes from how true to life she is in her stance and how unnatural are the materials of which she is made–wire and steel. In no way a realistic reproduction of a horse, the mare has no nose or mouth to indicate a muzzle, and, most noticeably, no horsehair coat.

What does the artist accomplish by her choice of materials and simplification of natural shape? It may help to know that Butterfield created Dapple Gray in commemoration of the volcanic eruption in Washington State of Mount St. Helens in 1980. The drift of gray ash that rained down for two days on Butterfield's horse ranch in Montana, and the gray clouds above it, reminded the artist of the patterns on the coats of Appaloosa horses. She set about creating a horse of gray metal and wire, with metal squares embedded in wire mesh to give it "dapples," or spots. She also put adhesive on her metal sculpture and then dusted it with volcanic ash collected on her property.

Although Butterfield thinks of many of her horse sculptures as self-portraits, she also sees them as symbols of our relationships to nature and the animal world around us. The fierce forces of nature, suggested here by the spiky entangled wire, seem to ensnare the dapple gray. They are nonetheless held in check by a gentle and vulnerable mare. With head down, she still stands proud.