Short answer: Bronze!
Last weekend, I visited the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford for the first time since I’d been chased off for climbing on the OY/YO statue. During my visit, I walked by the sculpture of the horse above. Although it was certainly made by an artist with an excellent eye for equine form, I definitely didn’t give the piece much thought. My friend then pointed out the sculpture was actually wrought from bronze!
We’ve all seen examples of wood painted to look like bronze and laminate painted to look like wood, but I’d never seen bronze look so much like wood. Perhaps those experienced in working with bronze will not be so impressed – but even if I can envision how the casting was done, the patination is truly beyond me. I wasn’t able to find more information specifically on patination to make bronze look like wood – but if anyone knows – I’d love to learn!
Moreover, on second look, the form is quite impressive – there’s just enough abstraction that the viewer has to engage their imagination- yet not so much that the artist’s undeniably deep knowledge of horses doesn’t shine through. Looking more into Deborah Butterfield (b. 1949), her work has focused on driftwood horses for the better part of 40 years. She even cites being born on the same day as the 75th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby as influencing her choice of subject matter.
I seek that fleeting moment of… perfection [in my sculptures]. It’s like life, you might have a fabulous day, but you still have to get up the next morning and do it again.Deborah Butterfield
For comparison, another prominent sculptor of driftwood horses was Heather Jansch (1948-2021). She was a British sculptor that initially focused on abstract art. She settled into driftwood horses later – with her website also stating she “collaborated over several years with skilled mould-makers at a fine art foundry, at last finding a seminal new method of casting highly complex forms in bronze. The resulting casts brought a new permanence and gravitas to the work.” Not particularly informative. In any case, Jansch’s works are also very impressive – if much less abstract than Butterfield’s.
Three other artists came up a few times when looking up driftwood horses: Rita Dee Hudson, James Doran Webb, and Matt Torrens. Mr. Torrens has a cute (if uninformative) video of one of these sculptures coming together.
As a bonus fact, there was also a historical horse named “Driftwood” that sired numerous rodeo and ranch horses and is in the American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame. As a bonus from the Cantor Arts Center, I leave you to decipher this text from a truly bizarre exhibit by Ian Cheng at the intersection of art, AI, cognitive science.