An exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum.
The story of Bill Traylor (1854–1949) proves that fine art can come from the most unexpected places. Born into slavery in Alabama, Traylor worked as a field hand on the plantation of his birth for most of his life. In 1928, he moved to nearby Montgomery, where he found work as laborer. After rheumatism forced him to retire, he received modest aid from a federal welfare program and slept in the back rooms of local shops.
To pass the time, the 85-year-old Traylor spent his days drawing on discarded scraps of cardboard, recording Montgomery’s bustling black community, memories of his time on the plantation, and animated figures at work and play. In the last decade of his life, Traylor produced more than 1,200 drawings. Today, he is lauded as one of the pioneers of the 20th-century group described as “outsider” artists.
Traylor’s art is much admired for its complex spatial organization, in which the surfaces are populated by flat, interlocking figures, geometric shapes and animals. Dogs are often present, passing in and out of scenes, working or observing human activities.
“Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts” is on view at the American Folk Art Museum in New York through September 22, 2013. This is a rare opportunity to see the work of one of the finest American artists of the modern era.
A new film on Bill Traylor by Jeffrey Wolf is in production.
Reviving a Nepalese folk-art tradition
Since 1986, Nepal has been a respite for Michelle Page, a former assistant film editor who lives in Santa Monica, Calif. The country’s friendly residents and low cost of living made it an attractive escape after she had spent countless 14-hour days in a dark room working on movie projects such as Spiderman II.
But in 2007, just as her own job security was starting to wane, Page noticed a similar trend on the streets of Kathmandu. “There used to be these beautiful hand-painted signs everywhere,” recalls Page. “Then suddenly, all the new signs seemed to be digitally printed on vinyl.” Hoping to help keep traditional artists employed, Page developed an art program inspired by her favorite Nepalese signs: the ubiquitous “Beware of Dog” warnings decorating gates throughout Kathmandu. Painted in colorful enamel, the metal signs often feature a German Shepherd, but also many other breeds that obviously live at the home or business in question —Beagle, Dachshund or Dalmatian. Page has documented 360 examples during her vacations.
Since opening Danger Dogs in 2007, Page has visited Nepal twice a year— a 60-hour round-trip commute—to connect U.S. pet owners with signboard artists who need work. Armed with photos customers have given her of their dogs, she spends six hours a day traveling in the sardine-can confines of minibuses to various painters’ studios, where she hand-delivers the photos for transformation into signs announcing “Danger Dog,” “Zen Dog” or whatever the customer prefers in both Nepali script and English.
To date, Page has overseen the creation of 2,700 pieces by 58 artists, who set their own prices for the work they craft for this unexpected U.S. audience. “There’s a big well of talent, and arranging the paintings is more fun than you can imagine,” says Page. “The artists are thrilled because they get to paint. They take it very seriously.” For each commission, Page hires three different artists. Although she tries to accommodate people who request a specific painter (“They do move around a lot”), she usually gives the portrait to whichever signboard artists she “would like to see do that dog.”
“Some artists do innovative lettering, while others do really well with hair or particular facial expressions,” Page explains. A handful of artists can work from “problem pictures,” ones in which the only shot of a deceased pet is out of focus or has “green eye” from the camera’s flash.
Once the signboards are complete, Page emails digital images to the customer, who can buy one ($250) or as many as they like—or none if they feel the painter missed the mark. Page then sells the other versions through her website (nepaldog.com), galleries and museum shops.
Narrowing the choice to only one proved impossible for Kristin Anderson of Malden, Mass. “Charles’ eyes are just perfect in one painting. It really captures his expression,” says Anderson, who commissioned a painting of her friend’s Cocker Spaniel as a wedding present this spring and ended up buying two signs. “We got a real rendition of Charles Barkley.”
During my late-summer visit to the Montreal Botanical Gardens’ Mosaïcultures Internationales “Land of Hope” exhibition, I was greeted by two delightful canine sculptures crafted entirely from plants: Japan’s Hachiko faithfully waiting on a train station platform, and from Canada, shepherd Elzéard Bouffi er planting a tree alongside his sheepdog and flock. The show features 48 living masterpieces created by horticultural artists from 25 different countries, who present their cultural icons through a botanical medium called mosaïculture.
These works are breathtaking in their size and detail. Unlike topiaries— trees or shrubs pruned into specifi c shapes—each unique piece of art is made from thousands of individual plants. Mosaïcultures Internationales uses 4,000,000 pieces of plants, fl owers and colorful foliage, and the largest sculptures stand almost 50 feet tall. Pictures do not do this exhibition justice, so get to the Montreal Botanical Gardens by September 29 and see it for yourself.
The Art of Michael Ballou
If you are in the Brooklyn area, you still have a couple days to check out the work of Brooklyn-based multimedia artist, and great dog-lover, Michael Ballou at the Raw/Cooked exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The show runs until July 7.
Ballou’s practice incorporates sculpture, performance, and collaboration, and he has altered three spaces in the museum with site-specific installations. Connecting them is his interest in the appearance, behavior, and inner lives of animals. Spilling out of a large-scale vitrine in the fourth-floor Decorative Arts galleries, Ballou’s Dog Years is a monumental construction of over sixty dog head sculptures, modeled on animals of his acquaintance.
New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, commenting on a previous exhibit of the artist, observed that “Mr. Ballou has a light but distinctive touch and a wonderful feeling for life's little moments of absurdity and beauty, both found and conjured.”
We’ve been trying to find out if these amazing dog heads are for sale, if anyone knows, or has a way of contacting the artist, do let us know!
Celebrating the elegant life … with dogs.
Like many 19th-century painters of modern life, French artist James Tissot (1836–1902) frequently depicted the new, more intimate relationships between dogs and their owners. During this period, people increasingly believed that animals and humans had similar emotional and intellectual responses, and the bond between pet-keepers and pets was foregrounded in new ways. Tissot, an avant-garde painter associated with Edgar Degas, portrayed a wide range of dog types with great charm, affectionate understanding and skill throughout his career. Indeed, he must have owned a number of dogs, as particular animals appear repeatedly in his pictures. A painting from Tissot’s French period, Young Lady in a Boat (1870), represents a woman in the fashionable costume of the early 19th century, accompanied by a Pug. This toy breed was a sign of wealth and status. Here, it has the slightly longer legs and snout that were typical until later in the 19th century, when the dogs began being bred for the pushed-in faces popular today. The woman’s gaze suggests that she is on a romantic rendezvous, and indeed, an alternative title for the picture—Adrift—implies that she could potentially lose her moral compass as well. Clearly, her Pug is keeping a watchful eye on her!
Traer Scott, photographer of Shelter Dogs and Street Dogs, has now turned her lens on some of the sweetest creatures on earth: puppies in their first 21 days of life. Her recently released book, Newborn Puppies, captures these vulnerable, wobbly, utterly adorable beings about to embark, as she says, “on the great adventure of growing up.” More than just a collection of pretty faces, the book also considers puppy mills and the need for humane education.
During much of the time that I was working on Newborn Puppies, I, like my subjects, was adjusting to life as a new mom. Because of this serendipitous parallel, I found myself in a unique position to observe firsthand how many of our most fundamental experiences of motherhood are also shared by dogs. I felt particularly simpatico with the mother dogs, who, despite being initially grateful for a break from their demanding litters and a chance to romp outside, became unbearably anxious after about 20 minutes. They would burst through the door, trampling anyone in their way to get to the whelping box. In a frenzy of licking, nuzzling and sniffing, they ensured that every pup was clean and safe and then, figuratively exhaling, settled down to nurse. I felt the same ebb and flow of relief and anticipation every time I left for work. Being briefly separated from my daughter was restorative, but after a few hours, I ached to hold her again.
The Metropolitan Museum invites you to collect and connect
NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the United States, and houses over two million works in its permanent collection. In an effort to broaden its reach and engage virtual museum goers, it has introduced MyMet, an online feature that allows you to select and store favorite works of art, and share them via social media. With MyMet, the museum’s incredible collections are at your fingertips. Enter “dog” in the search and you’ll get 1,184 results! We spent a few hours browsing through a treasure trove of art, objects and artifacts.
Photographer Amanda Jones captures the all-American dog
Mixed-breed. Mongrel. Heinz-57. All-American. Mutt. Would a dog by any other name smile as sweet? You may be surprised to know that the most popular, or, shall I say, most prevalent type of dog is now a mixed-breed. There are more mutts in American homes than any single breed—more than Labs, Golden Retrievers and Yorkies (who rank two, three and four, respectively). That’s saying something.
In Amanda Jones’ new book, A Breed Apart: A Celebration of the New American Mutt, she employs her fine artistry to capturing all that we admire about these true one-of-kind dogs. Couture originals each and every one! Let those purists have their papered pups—give me a “breed apart” anytime!
As a lifelong devotee of mutts, I completely understand America’s current fascination. What better candidate could there be for first-place honors in a country that proudly claims to be the world’s melting pot? For going on 10 years now, my job has allowed me to meet wonderful dogs, many of them of “uncertain parentage.” Where do I start to sing their praises?
If every dog has its day, let’s hope that it’s the mutt’s turn now. Even though all dogs originally came from mixed-breed stock eons ago, mutts have played second fiddle to their more high-bred brethren for too long now! The idiosyncratic charms of the dogs in this book speak volumes for the love they share with their humans. With so many exceptional dogs, of all sizes and shapes, awaiting adoptions at local shelters—how can one pass over their uniqueness while also knowing that you saved the life of a dog that was “made” just for you!
Alex Katz, known for his bold, hard-edged figurative paintings and prints, is one of the most recognized and celebrated artists of his generation. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Katz ushered in a new approach to portraiture, helping define the American Pop Art sensibility. In his work, Katz depicts family, friends and most often, his wife and muse, Ada, as well as the Maine landscape where he spends his summers. In one of his best-known works, he portrays Sunny, the Katz family dog, chest-high in coastal grasses. Katz’s art is noted for its cool detachment and seductive elegance—walking a tightrope between traditional figuration and pure abstraction. This spring (2012), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, presents Alex Katz Prints, a major retrospective of prints by Katz from the 1960s to the present. On view will be some 125 works—prints, unique and editioned cutouts on aluminum and illustrated books. Plus, Sunny.
Robert Clarke studied at the St. Martins School of Art in London. A skilled draftsman and visual artist, his drawings and paintings of dogs have garnered praise from both sides of the Atlantic. His A–Z series of canine portraits culled from London and New York residents—represent a dog for each letter of the alphabet.
My London A–Z exhibit was British breeds, mainly—dogs you can walk on the heath (with a few exceptions like X for Xolo and Z for Zuchon). The New York A–Z show were smaller breeds—Bostons, Chihuahuas, Pugs, the urban dog. They are each their own dog, with an individual personality. These wonderful creatures need to be loved. I love to paint them … all of them.
Yes, I was attacked by a dog when I was two, and never really got over the fear until I decided to get a Jack Russell puppy. I went to a puppy club—we handled all sorts of dogs, letting them mouth us, touching their paws, really trying to bond with them. That was when I got over my fear. Then with the onset of the dog paintings, I met dogs of so many different breeds—and they were all wonderful in their own right. I feel comfortable now.
I try to capture the essence of the dog. When I meet the dog, I gauge her playfulness and her attitude, but I also sometimes work from assorted photos without seeing the dog in person. Each dog has a different personality; I try to capture that in paint. For example, some dogs are in need of exactitude (Jack Russells, Chihuahuas). The smaller dogs generally are portrayed more closely, while the larger, hairier dogs are more abstract (Wheatens, Cockapoos).
I have a canvas ready and sift through the images I’ve got on hand. I get a sense of color and feel from the picture, and paint the dog. Sometimes it all comes together like magic; other times, it’s the smallest detail like adding a dot to the eye that makes the dog spring from the canvas.
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