Born in Manchester, Butler studied at Edinburgh College of Art and under Marino Marini and Giacomo Manzù at the Brera Academy in Milan. In 1963 he returned to Scotland, taking up a post at Edinburgh College of Art which he held until 1989. He was one of the country's leading figurative sculptors, concentrating on the human figure. Bronze was his preferred medium, but Butler also worked in stone and wood. He was a member of the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute.