Born in San Diego, the same day as the 75th running of the Kentucky Derby, Deborah Butterfield partly credits that birthdate as an inspiration for her subject matter; she has also said that she would have preferred to work in the female form, but that her mentor Manuel Neri dominated that form. Instead, she chose to create self-portraits using images of horses.
The love for animals seems to be a main driving force behind the work of Deborah Butterfield who’s astounding sculptures are dealing mainly with environmentalist subjects like vulnerability and fragility of nature. Her long career is based on the methodology of both sculpture in extended field and ready-made. Nevertheless, Butterfield takes a different kind of surge by appropriating natural forms in conjunction with a rather stiff concept. The way she constructs the bodies of the objects respectively animals reflects her deep concern for careless exploitation and ignorance of the animal world.
Butterfield attended the University of California, Davis, with the intention of studying veterinary medicine. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Davis campus was a lively center for innovative new art. Butterfield decided to become a sculptor instead of a veterinarian and received her MFA in 1973. Three years later she moved to Montana, which was not a typical destination for a young artist.Funded by National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1977 and 1980, Butterfield was able to work productively on a series of sculptures depicting horses. Within a few years, these works were exhibited at major art museums in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. The artist is an accomplished equestrian, skilled in the formal style known as dressage. Her life-sized sculptures, though not realistic, of horses convey her expert knowledge of equine anatomy.