Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pet portraits: Dogs in Australian Art

David Welch (1950-) The Artist's Dog (printed in Dogs in Australian Art, p45).

We are taking a brief break from our usual veterinary content to bring you something absolutely beautiful...images of artwork featuring dogs. I don't know much about art, but I know that I like art featuring animals. 

So does Steven Miller, art historian and welsh terrier owner, who compiled the beautiful book Dogs in Australian Art. I reviewed this book last year and fell in love with it.

The cover painting, The Artist's Dog, painted by David Welch in 2010, initially looks so serene - a beagle delivering a ball at the artist's feet. But it has a darker side. The painting was inspired by the death of a well-dressed gent in the park that Welch was quietly having lunch in one otherwise ordinary day. Welch had actually assumed that the man (neatly suited up mind you) was sun-baking - until police turned up and zipped him into a body bag.

It prompted Welch to imagine his own death in the park while walking his dog Coco. What if she went off to fetch a ball and returned to find him dead? Would she keep vigil by his side, or be sidetracked by an interesting scent? (Most beagle owners will understand that Welch suspected the latter - no disrespect to beagles intended).

When I interviewed Miller about this painting for The Veterinarian Magazine, he said: "It's a quirky and beautiful paining which raises all kinds of questions about loyalty and connection."
Louise Hearman (1963­) Untitled _ 999 2003. Oil on masonite, 30.0 x 30.0 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. Featured in Dogs in Australian Art, p61.

In his book, Miller argues that the positive impact of the dog on the mental and spiritual wellbeing of animals is "real and undeniable." No arguments there. 

"In the world of an artist who is often working long hours in a studio, their dogs become their confidants and companions," Miller says.

Noel McKenna (1956­) Jack Russel 2001. Enamel on board, 96.0 x 65.0 cm. Private collection. Image courtesy of the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne
I am sure there is a more sophisticated art-history way of saying it, but I often feel that looking at a dog - or a compelling image of a dog - is like chocolate for my eyeballs. I get lost in this book every time I look through it.
DIAA p 57 - Joanna Braithwaite (1962­) Diggers 2005. Oil on canvas, 159.5 x 119.0 cm.
Image courtesy of the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney
Some of the images are profoundly sad, some absurd, but they all made me think about how we perceive dogs - and how we think they perceive us.
Justin Spiers and Yvonne Doherty Andrea, Tristan, Valentino & Tatiana from Pet Photo Booth 2006. Digital type C print, 60.0 x 60.0 cm. Image courtesy of the artists.

I love the concept of the Pet Photo Booth in particular. But this post would not be complete without a snap of the art historian and his loyal companion Finbar. Behind every great artist, or person, seems to be a great dog. Or cat. Or axolotl. 
Steven and Finbar.