Joe Fafard’s Running Horses: Roaming Free


Joe Fafard, Running Horses (detail), 2017, powder coated aluminium, 10‑12 m installation width. Purchased 2017. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © Joe Fafard Photo: NGC


Joe Fafard’s dynamic and immersive sculpture Running Horses speaks to the power and energy of horses and acknowledges their significance to Canada’s prairie landscapes as well as their special relationship to humankind. Although the original version of this work was installed outside the National Gallery of Canada for four summers between 2011 and 2016, it had to be brought indoors during the winter to protect it from Ottawa’s harsh weather.  A new edition of the work by the celebrated Saskatchewan artist is now able to take up permanent residence along Sussex Drive.

Joe Fafard, Running Horses, 2007, powder coated steel and bronze, 10-12 m installation width. Purchased 2008 with the generous support of the Distinguished Patrons of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: NGC


Visitors and local residents have long expressed a desire to see the sculpture all year long. To achieve this, Joe Fafard and NGC staff worked together for most of last year to create a permanent outdoor display of Running Horses.  Evocative of the sprawling landscapes of the western provinces, Joe Fafard’s original sculpture is comprised of eleven laser-cut steel silhouettes of galloping horses. The artist made each animal unique by incorporating laser-cut details and powder-coating them in an array of colours inspired by western sunsets. Each horse is supported by a cast bronze stand that resembles prairie grass blowing in the wind.

Stephen Gritt, NGC’s Director of Conservation and Technical Research, and Doris Couture-Rigert, Chief Conservator of the Restoration and Conservation Laboratory, emphasized that, in addition to its strong visual presence and popularity, Running Horses represents a significant moment in Fafard’s career. At the time of its creation, the artist had just begun making sculptures from laser-cut steel, after spending many years working in traditional bronze casting. Running Horses is thus an important early prototype of his work in a new medium. While steel and bronze are versatile and generally durable materials, Couture-Rigert explains that their physical properties within the context of this sculptural work make it unsuited to the intense cold and wind of an Ottawa winter.  Both materials are susceptible to corrosion, especially when exposed to airborne road salts, while the freezing temperatures and high winds can cause the thin 6 mm sheet metal to oscillate, causing the paint to split along the sharp edges of the steel.

Joe Fafard, Detail of horse's head from Running Horses, 2017, powder coated aluminium, 10‑12 m installation width. Purchased 2017. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © Joe Fafard Photo: NGC


Since his creation of the original work in 2007, Fafard has continued to experiment with materials and methodologies, producing more robust sculptures from sheet metal. In addition to using heavier gage steel, he now also works with waterjet-cut 1.5 cm aluminum sheets, with rounded edges and cast aluminum for the base, allowing him to create outdoor sculptures able to withstand strong winds, precipitation and extreme fluctuations in temperature of the northern climate.

This evolution in his technique has inspired Fafard and the Restoration and Conservation team to use these new materials and techniques to reproduce the Running Horses sculpture for permanent outdoor display. The result is a new set of eleven horses completed by the artist in powder-coated aluminum.

Joe Fafard, Running Horses, 2017, powder coated aluminium, 10‑12 m installation width. Purchased 2017. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © Joe Fafard Photo: NGC

Created in the spirit of the 2007 work, the new horses were made using the original cutout patterns and the same moulds for the grass-inspired stands. This forms, as Gritt points out, “a genetic link” between the two works. The original Running Horses remain available for indoor exhibitions, while the new set will be on permanent view outside the Gallery. The process has been a significant endeavour, involving the Gallery directly in the evolution of the prototype of this kind of sculpture and also given the artist’s interest in mastering new diverse materials.

It has been eleven years since Fafard produced the original Running Horses, and nearly two years since they last graced the Gallery’s frontage along Sussex Drive. Newly cast in aluminum, the galloping herd will now run free throughout the year. 


Joe Fafard's aluminum sculpture Running Horses  is now on permanent view at the National Gallery of Canada. The Essential Joe Fafard - Van Gogh & Other Inspirations is on view at Mayberry Fine Art in Toronto until 9 June. To share this article, please click on the arrow at the top right hand of the page.

Share this article: 

About the Author