After the female nude, horses may be the most popular subject for artists from the Stone Age forward. And at first glance, you might think Deborah Butterfield's horse sculptures are also rendered with crude caveman technique. They appear to have been assembled from random bits of driftwood, branches, and deadwood you might find on the ground. These sticks are arranged into three-dimensional equine form—suggesting grazing, standing, whinnying, just being horses—in a doubly organic manner. They're made of wood, right? All the curves and knots have been carefully selected to match each contour of flank and fetlock? But no—the seven horses, some life-size, are cast bronze. Butterfield actually begins with natural boughs of madrona and other woods, shapes them into place (or lets the shape determine where they're placed), then, finally, laboriously translates each twig and tree limb into metal. All the pieces are then welded together, and the horses become inorganic, permanent, like petrified wood. The veteran artist keeps horses on her Montana ranch, no surprise, and this small herd has been fixed and frozen into positions she's doubtlessly observed many times in her pasture. Their grace is both skeletal and vivid, their essence stripped of sinew and hide—a kind of rendering, if you will. While clearly respected by the artist, these beasts have been reduced like the wooden limbs that, when living, once held green needles and leaves.
Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., 624-0770, gregkucera.com. Free. 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat. Ends July 30.