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Cameron Woo

Cameron Woo is The Bark's co-founder and publisher.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Printing as Art & Craft

A dog sprawls comfortably, relaxed despite the clatter and thump of a nearby printing press. The smell of ink fills the air as a skilled craftsperson rolls a layer of pigment onto the printing plate, then checks the position of the paper.

While this scene could be from the 16th century, it’s being enacted daily across the country as a new generation of artists and entrepreneurs embrace the tactile, handcrafted quality of letterpress printing. Similar to artisan movements in cooking, design and fashion, the craft of printing is experiencing a revival of traditional techniques. Dogs enter the picture—often literally—not only as shop companions but also as muses. At Hound Dog Press, BirdDog Press and Paisley Dog Press, canine-inspired cards, posters and stationery are carefully pulled the old-fashioned way, using a type of press that Benjamin Franklin would likely recognize.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type and the wooden printing press in the mid-15th century, he started a revolution, and the technology he created prevailed for four centuries. At its finest, the process combines metal, ink and paper to create a three-dimensional effect: metal type presses ink into the paper, depositing it only on the floor of the impression and leaving the walls clean. A rich texture of light and shadow gives letterpress printing its unique beauty.

With the invention of commercial offset lithography (the method by which The Bark is printed) in 1904, letterpress gradually fell out of favor as customers migrated to a faster, cheaper form of printing. But fine letterpress printing has never completely gone away. New practitioners, respectful of tradition, are bringing fresh aesthetics and inventive techniques to the medium, evolving letterpress into something new.

Many of their working presses were built over a century ago and are operated by levers and wheels; type is set by hand, one character and space and dingbat at time. Little has changed, including the shop dogs who keep the pressmen and women company. Like the lucky dogs they are, they remind us that sometimes, what is discarded or lost can find its way back into our hearts.

News: Editors
Dugald Stermer, Bark Cover Artist, Dies

We were saddened to hear that one-time Bark contributor Dugald Stermer passed away last Friday at the age of 74. Stermer was the art director of Ramparts magazine (1964-1970), the highly influential counterculture publication that contributed to the wave of New Journalism and inventive, powerful design and illustration. As an illustrator, Stermer became known for his classical drawings, ranging from Jerry Garcia to endangered animals and flora. He was the rare, gifted artist who used his creative talents for the public good. Stermer walked the walk.

Back in 2001, when The Bark used exclusively illustration for cover art, we sought out Stermer, hoping that he might find kinship with a fledgling indie magazine, and give us permission to use a drawing he had stowed away in a drawer. He insisted that he create a new drawing, a portrait of Spenser, his daughter Megan’s dog. A week later he sent us the drawing, an exquisite likeness of a grinning, bandanna-wearing mutt. “Spenser” was written in the artist’s trademark hand lettering below, and surrounding the portrait were references to Spenser’s proposed lineage—Chesapeake Bay Retriever? Poodle? Irish Wolfhound? It was both delightful and delicate in its rendering. We were honored to have Stermer’s work grace our pages.

As I read his obituary in the New York Times, and in more personal blog tributes and comments, one passage rang true. In a 2010 interview, Stermer was asked about his career. “As [San Francisco advertising legend who introduced Stermer to Ramparts] Howard Gossage used to say, ‘The only fit work for an adult is to change the world.’ He said it straight-faced, and while other people might laugh, I always have that in the back of my mind. I don’t walk around with my heart on my sleeve, but I do feel that using our abilities to make things better is a pretty good way of spending a life.”

Culture: DogPatch
Masterwork: Young Man and Woman in an Inn by Frans Hals
Young Man and Woman in an Inn

Frans Hals (1582 – 1666), the celebrated portraitist and genre painter, together with Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer comprise the pantheon of Dutch painting’s “Golden Age.” Hals’ subjects were the bourgeois of Haarlem, a hub of a new 17th-century Dutch economy. His colorful characters were painted with a vibrant palette and bold brushwork unseen in realist painting. Unlike the somber dignity found in Rembrandt or the contemplative interiors of Vermeer, Hals paintings radiate an exuberance in style and composition. He is at his best when he combines portraiture with genre painting, as he does in Young Man and Woman in an Inn (1623). Popularly known since the eighteenth century as Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart, it is one of Hals most important works, an examination of “everyday life” or the depiction of modern manners and mores. The painting shows a brief encounter in a tavern between a young man and woman. Yonker is an English rendering of Jonker or Jonkheer, which means “Young Gentleman.” The young man depicted here was considered to resemble Pieter Ramp, the ensign in the background of another Hals painting Banquet of the Officers of the Saint Hadrian Civic Guard Company (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem) of about 1627. The Yonker here raises his glass in celebration as the woman, arm around his shoulder vies for his attention. Her rival is a dog (resembling a Griffon), the canine’s muzzle cupped in the hand of the Yonker, perhaps enjoying a morsel of food. The immediacy of the scene and the dazzling brushwork are remarkable. The facial expressions exude a raucous gaiety verging on caricature, while Hals’ painterly skill is in full force with his virtuoso handling of flesh, fabric and lace. The painting recalls a contemporary Dutch adage: “the nuzzle of dogs, the affection of prostitutes, and the hospitality of innkeepers: None of it comes without cost.” As demonstrated in this masterwork, Hals was not shy about portraying his subjects foolish behavior or showing the crass side of the new gentry class. Few paintings capture the personality of its subjects with such vitality and unvarnished joy—it’s as if Hals joins the Yonker and his lady friend in winking at us from the canvas.

News: Editors
New Film Realistically Portrays How We Live with Dogs
Charming Jack Russell shares the screen with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer

Escaping the office mid-week to sit in a movie theater and watch a film—what a rare treat! Claudia and I did just that one week ago, for a special screening of a new film Beginners, written and directed by Mike Mills, and starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent. This gem of a film opens the San Francisco International Film Festival tonight, before its commercial release in early June.

  The fact that a charming little dog, a Jack Russell Terrier named Arthur, appears in nearly every scene is the reason why Bark was invited to the screening. The film is not about Arthur or dogs specifically, but people who love and live with a dog. The dog is not there for laughs or a plot device, he simply is an important part of the characters’ lives, and this natural portrayal is rare among films.   McGregor plays the son, and Plummer, the father with Laurent the son’s love interest. Beginners is an intimate, understated story of self-discovery, life, love and death … and Arthur the dog (performed by Cosmo) is omnipresent for it all. His is a sweet, affectionate performance—coaxed by Mathilde De Cagny, the trainer who gave us that other thespian JRT, Eddie of “Fraser” fame.   Claudia and I loved Beginners, it is one of the most honest and joyous films you’ll see, but also one of the quietest and most restrained. Oh yes, and thought provoking.   We have the good fortune of interviewing the Mike Mills and Ewan McGregor on Friday, and we’ll be sharing our conversation with you in our summer issue.   Check out the film’s trailer, and get a taste of their magic:

News: Editors
Maker of Special Dog Films
Remembering Robert Radnitz

The quiet passing of Robert Radnitz last week, a onetime English teacher turned movie producer should not go unnoticed. Radnitz is responsible for two fine films that prominently featured dogs—A Dog of Flanders and Sounder. With the release of his first film, A Dog of Flanders in 1959, Mr. Radnitz established his reputation as a maker of high-quality movies for children and their parents. Based on the venerable novel by Ouida, the bittersweet story of a poor Flemish boy and an abandoned dog is a classic tale of adversity, a theme that would appear often in the producer’s films. Radnitz’s greatest success was his production of Sounder in 1972, directed by Martin Ritt, and nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Screenplay, Best Actor (Paul Winfield) and Actress (Cicely Tyson). By today’s standards, Sounder may appear a tad sentimental in portraying the harshness of the subject matter—the cruel racism of 1930s American South—but the film introduced mature subject matter, intelligently and compassionately, to a young audience. I remember seeing it as a young boy in my local movie theater and being moved and angered by the injustice the film depicted. Radnitz went on to produce many films, including Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, Where Lilies Bloom, among others. As part of a joint resolution by the U.S. Congress honoring his work, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas paid him this tribute, “The films Robert Radnitz has produced touch the common thread of humanity and that’s why he’s made such a great and glorious contribution to the thing that makes our society a viable, living, vibrant whole.”

  Robert Radnitz passed away at the age of 85, Sunday night, June 6, at his Malibu home, surrounded by his devoted wife Pearl and his beloved dogs, Coco, Junior and Rosebud.  

 

News: Editors
My Dog Tulip
J.R. Ackerley’s classic memoir adapted masterfully to film

I had the good fortune of viewing a very special film at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival—an animated adaption of J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip. Ackerley’s memoir, first published in Britain in 1956, revolves around his 14-year relationship with an Alsatian named Tulip. The book’s perceived raunchiness, highlighted by the author’s mediations on “defecation and mating” caused quite a stir when it first debuted but over the years has found its place as one of the “greatest masterpieces of animal literature” as proclaimed by Christopher Isherwood. This humorous and often moving book is a poignant observation of a friendship that proved to be the happiest years of author’s life. The masterful animation team of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger (Still Life with Animate Dogs) have created a rare achievement, an imaginative and faithful interpretation of a literary classic. The story is firmly rooted in a time and place (postwar England) but the simple routines of man and dog (walks, poop, pee, barking) are a source of examination that dog people will truly appreciate. The complexities of the human-animal bond are explored with a thoughtfulness rarely seen. Fierlinger’s drawing/painting style is magical and surprising throughout, making the characters come to life in the most imaginative ways. The film is a refreshing break from the hyperrealism that dominates today’s animated features, with the art showing the hand of the artist in all its quirky, lively expressions—and is better for it. The Fierlingers pulls off an amazing feat by depicting different levels of reality with distinct drawings styles, thus the imagined scenes in Ackerley’s head become delightful pixie renditions executed as stick figures, but for all their simplicity are absolutely hilarious. In short, the film has soul, something I find missing in much of today’s animation. Christopher Plummer lends his superb voice to the author’s character, and the late Lynn Redgrave, as the author’s protective sister, and Isabella Rossellini, as Tulip’s comforting vet, round out a first rate production. My Dog Tulip is set for a fall release, and should be on the list of everybody who loves a good dog tale. View the trailer here.

News: Editors
Surreal Canines And Other Critters

A chance to experience first-hand the wonderful paintings of the preeminent California painter, Roy De Forest, is not to be missed. His surreal mindscapes filled with dogs, horses, birds and people resonate with bright colors, thick paint and mythic tales. De Forest is loosely grouped together with 60’s Funk art, yet his vision stands alone in its originality. His paintings attain something rare—inspiring joy, laughter, awe and sheer delight.

 

DETAILS: Painting the Big Painting runs January 8–February 28 at Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco, Calif.

 

Discover nine more not-to-be-missed exhibits in 2009.

 

News: Editors
10 Not-to-be-Missed Exhibits in 2009

The convergence of art and canines can yield thrilling results—a visual feast, an engaging tutorial of ideas, unadulterated fun. The new year brings a host of intriguing exhibitions to museums across the country—There’s something to satisfy every taste: the traditionalist, the modernist, the academic and even the I-don’t-like-museum types.

1. Vernacular Photography Fair; January 10–11; Santa Monica, CA
Found photography or anonymous imagery is a photographic genre that’s making inroads into museums and collections. Snapshots are a part of American life and memory, and among these rediscovered treasures, you’ll often find man’s best friend. Best of all, vernacular photography remains an affordable collectible (check out the $5 bins!), and this gathering of dealers offers a dose of nostalgic bliss.

2. Roy De Forest: Painting the Big Painting; January 8–February 28; Brian Gross Fine Art; San Francisco, CA
A chance to experience first-hand the wonderful paintings of this preeminent California painter is not to be missed. De Forest’s surreal mindscapes filled with dogs, horses, birds and people resonate with bright colors, thick paint and mythic tales. De Forest is loosely grouped together with 60’s Funk art, yet his vision stands alone in its originality. De Forest’s paintings attain something rare—inspiring joy, laughter, awe and sheer delight.

3. Pets in America; September 13, 2008–February 1; Stamford Museum & Nature Center; Stamford, CT
This thought-provoking exhibition explores the bond between people and animals, and the history of pet-keeping. The collection of more than 300 objects includes pet attire, feeding and housing implements, pet remedies, and a coat and collar made for President Roosevelt’s dog, Fala. Developed in support of research by Professor Katherine C. Grier, the show is both scholarly and entertaining, examining the impact pet-keeping has had on ideas on human nature, emotional life, individual responsibility and societal obligations.

4. The Beauty of the Beasts: Artists and their Pets in 20th-Century Art; January 7–March 16; Art Institute of Chicago; Chicago, IL
This survey includes a diverse selection of works, from Renaissance sculpture to modernists Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso, connected by their love of animals and works featuring their pets. See how companion dogs worked their way into the art of Caravaggio and the canvases of Pierre Bonnard, and created the phenomenon known as the Blue Dog. Yes, there are propositions on symbolism, allegories and the like, but these aesthetic mash-ups are really an excuse for some fun and surprising pairings—where else could you see Frida’s monkey share a room with Cellini’s shaggy dog?

5. Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors; January 27–April 19; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, NY
A rare exhibition focusing on the post-Impressionist Pierre Bonnard’s (1867–1947) late interior and still life paintings. The 8o paintings, drawings and watercolors are radiant, glowing with the warmth of their Mediterranean locale. Bonnard’s beloved Dachshunds are present in a handful of the best works, curled up next to a bath, sitting at the table, asleep in a corner. These paintings capture a distant time and place, melding a Proustian sensibility with an Impressionist’s palette.

6. Dog Days Auction Sale; February 10; Bonhams New York; New York, NY
This annual event coincides with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and features antique paintings, decorative arts and collectibles with a dog breed theme. The quality of the pieces ranges greatly—from masterwork to kitsch—but all are fascinating in their historical context if not always in their aesthetic merit. Who can resist a painting like this year’s prized item—Arthur John Elsley’s One at a Time (1901)—which depicts a Terrier and a Collie vying for the affections of a rosy-cheeked, bonneted young girl? Bonham’s hosts a popular Sunday brunch-benefit on February 8; check for other viewing opportunities and the online catalog.

7. Paws and Reflect: Art of Canines; January 31–March 29; The Spartanburg Art Museum; Spartanburg, SC; April 26–June 14, 2009;
New Visions Gallery, Marshfield, WI; July 4–August 30, 2009;
Elizabeth de C. Wilson Museum, Southern Vermont Arts Center,
Manchester, VT
This traveling exhibition, which includes paintings, watercolors and sculptures created in the realist manner, will appeal to the traditionalist art lover. Works by over 30 artists from around the country, extraordinary technique and respect for the subject matter are the themes of the day. Among the highlights are several life-size bronze sculptures.

8. It’s a Dog’s Life: Photographs by William Wegman from the Polaroid Collection; January 18–April 12; Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art; Tarpon Springs, FL
For those only familiar with Wegman’s photographs from books and magazines, these large-format images—with their saturated color and vivid detail—will be a welcome surprise.  The subjects are well-known: his Weimaraner pack of models in zany costumes, posed in studies of form and abstractionthe artist’s special brand of visual puns. The scale and presence of these oversized “instant snapshots” are impressive. The fact that Polaroid has discontinued making its trademarked film adds a particular poignancy to this exhibit.

9. Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective; May 20–August 16; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, NY
The first major New York exhibition in 20 years devoted to one of the most important painters of the 20th century, this is a major event. Featuring 153 works spanning the artist’s oeuvre, it’s likely to be a rewarding and exhaustive experience. We expect to see at least a few of Bacon’s paintings of dogs based on the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge’s famous locomotion studies. The paintings are studies of malevolence, power and horror—themes the artist grappled with throughout his career. These early paintings are monumental in their dark moodiness, primal in their elicitation of emotion. Do what you can to see them.

10. Darwin: Big Idea, Big Exhibition; November 14, 2008–April 19, 2009; Natural History Museum; London, England; November 7, 2009–February 28, 2010; San Diego Natural History Museum; San Diego, CA
Celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, the great thinker whose revolutionary theory changed our understanding of the world. Besides sailing on a ship of discovery named the HMS Beagle, Darwin was a lover of dogs, and his observations of them informed his theories on evolution, species classification and animal behavior. The exhibition is rich with specimens and artifacts, including letters and publications that illustrate Darwin’s life and the lasting impact of his ideas. The seeds of canine genetics can be seen sprinkled throughout the collection. The exhibition celebrates Darwin’s birthday (February 12) and ends on the 127th anniversary of his death, moving on to the San Diego Natural History Museum.

 

Have a recommendation for a dog-themed exhibit? Share it with our readers by posting a comment below.

News: Guest Posts
Lucian Freud: Bark cover artist

Cameron Woo | July 27, 2011

How would you like a Lucian Freud painting on the cover of The Bark? Our foreign correspondent, Susie Green, posed us the question in the fall of 2002. With the passing of the artist Lucian Freud last week, I recalled our brief but lasting encounter with the legendary painter and the beautiful portraits of his dogs Eli and Pluto. They are among the most magnificent paintings made in recent history. A Lucian Freud painting on the cover of The Bark?—By all means, yes! We were in the midst of planning for our holiday issue, and Christmas had come early.

Freud was preparing for a historic retrospective at London’s Tate Gallery, organized by his friend and critic, William Feaver. It turned out that our reporter Susie and the painter frequented the same pub, and she thought he might be sympathetic to Bark’s take on dog art and culture. The connection led to Feaver, who found our publication to his liking, and graciously arranged permission to publish a new painting by Freud of his Whippet, Eli. We were astounded at our good fortune. It debuted in America on our cover, while hanging in the Tate, still wet from its recent creation.

Inside the issue we published a selection of Freud’s portraits—his earliest painting of a dog from 1951-52 entitled Girl with a White Dog (which we caught some heat from because of its partial nudity), and double and triple portraits featuring his beloved Whippets, Eli and Pluto with human companions. Plus, a photo of the real Eli, standing next to his painted portrait. “I’m really interested in people as animals,’ Freud told Feaver. ‘Part of my liking to work from them naked is for that reason. Because I can see more and it’s also very exciting to see the forms repeating through the body and often the head as well. I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals, as Pluto my whippet.”
v This vulnerability, and nakedness—emotionally and physically are defining elements in Freud’s work. His paintings are honest, unflinching portraits of humanity, and on special occasions, dogdom. His rare ability to capture the physical and psychological presence of his models, and his sensual way with paint, thick and sculptural, inspired the critic Robert Hughes to proclaim him “the greatest living realist painter.”

We were thus honored by Lucian Freud’s Eli gracing The Bark. Besides this lovely cover, his contribution to our magazine also opened the door to other artists, galleries and museums—what a calling card we now held—to say that Lucian Freud had appeared in The Bark. We will always be thankful for his generosity, and the privilege to share his paintings with our readers.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Stories from the Great Wheel of Life
An interview with Byambasuren Davaa, director of "The Cave of the Yellow Dog"
Byambasuren Davaa, director of "The Cave of the Yellow Dog"

Mongolian-born director Byambasuren Davaa’s films examine the lifeways of an older Mongolia, effortlessly blending natural and cultural themes. Travelling to Germany in 2000 to study at the Munich Academy of Television and Film, Davaa won international recognition when her student project, The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003), was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. Her new movie, The Cave of the Yellow Dog (which is part of her graduating thesis), has just been released in the U.S. This story focuses on a nomadic family and a stray dog who enters their lives.
 

You can read Edward Guthmann's review of The Cave of the Yellow Dog here.

Bark’s Cameron Woo recently had an opportunity to conduct a transoceanic conversation with Ms. Byambasuren.

Bark: Your film deals with cultural changes, traditional life versus modern life. Can you tell us about some of the changes that Mongolian people—particularly nomads—face?

Byambasuren Davaa: Like everyone else, they live in global times. There’s hardly a family who doesn’t own a television or other electronic device. As a result, instead of parents reading or telling their children stories during the long, lonely evenings, families are watching television or listening to CDs.

Bark: What is the meaning of the fable of the yellow dog?

Davaa: It’s about coming into the world and leaving it, essentially, about reincarnation.

Bark: Is there a spiritual relationship between dogs and humans in Mongolia?

Davaa: Mongolians believe in reincarnation, and that dogs are reborn as humans. That’s why there’s such a strong bond between people and dogs.

Bark: How much time did you spend with the Batchuluun family before you started shooting the film?

Davaa: I went to Mongolia in April 2004 and spent two weeks searching for a family for the film. When I found the Batchuluuns, we spent two days together, and it was clear to me that they were exactly the people I was looking for. Then I went back to Germany and returned with my crew in mid-June and spent another week with them prior to shooting.

Bark: Working from a script and filming a documentary seem to require two kinds of filmmaking techniques. In Cave of the Yellow Dog, what percentage of the scenes were scripted and what percentage were not?

Davaa: The ratio was about 50/50; we knew what sort of story we wanted to tell—basically, that of the dog and the children —but we didn’t know exactly how it would be executed. We started with an outline.

Bark: Did the family have to learn lines?

Davaa: No. The family is very traditional and it really wasn’t possible to tell them what to say.

Bark: Where did you find Zochor, the dog?

Davaa: She was a city dog, a mutt; we found her in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Dogs’ emotions show up in their eyes, so we needed a light-colored dog—dark fur on the face would make emotion harder to film. We also needed two identical dogs, in case something happened to one of them during filming. We found two three-month-old puppies who we were told had the same mother. One had a spot on its back, one didn’t. Worst-case scenario, we figured we could spray on a spot. As it turned out, one grew tall and the other grew long. Both dogs were given shots and cared for, but we used the same dog (the tall one) throughout the filming.

Bark: Did a professional trainer work with Zochor?

Davaa: No, no trainer. In the beginning, she was being fed by everyone; everyone was giving her little treats here and there. Then we realized that wasn’t such a good thing, and selected just one person to feed her and give her the daily attention she needed. She’s a very clever dog—it was sometimes a lot easier to work with her than with the kids.

Bark: Did the little girl, Nansal, have time to get to know Zochor? Was there time for them to develop a relationship before filming began?

Davaa: Nansal met Zochor for the first time when she found her in the cave as the movie was being filmed. We wanted to get the child’s natural reaction—would she like the puppy or would she be afraid of her? Actually, none of the family met Zochor until shooting was in progress.

Bark: Did Nansal and her family know that they were going to encounter a dog?

Davaa: Yes, they were told about it. But when Nansal went into the cave, I don’t believe she knew the dog was in there. Bark: What happened to Zochor when the film was completed?

Bark: What happened to Zochor when the film was completed?

Davaa: The family kept her; in fact, I spoke to them recently and learned that they are training Zochor to watch the sheep, which she’ll soon be doing on her own.

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