News: Guest Posts
A loving tribute that’s more than skin deep.
Last spring, I wrote a story about dog tattoos, or more precisely, people who have tattoos—usually portraits—of their dogs. I was awed by the variety and beauty of these tributes. After we ran the story, I received so many wonderful photos of tattoos (which we posted on our old blog over the following weeks). Honestly, for a while there, I began to feel like I was writing for a dog-tattoo blog—so did a few less enthusiastic readers. So at the risk of exciting their ire once again, I have to share this latest tattoo from Elisa Bolvari, a loyal reader for the last eight years. Here’s what Elisa wrote about her tattto:
"It is a memorial to six canine friends I had the pleasure to live with during my life and who are now waiting for me on the other side (where I believe they are indeed joyful). My Dogs humble me—their freely shared love, unbridled joy of each day and willingness to share the most treasured, dirty, wet prize makes my heart swell. I thank them for truly being my Co-Pilots."
Her tattoo designer and artist was Mark Duhan of Skin Deep Ink Tattoo in New Milford, Conn. According to Elisa, Mark is also a dog lover, who “neva met a dog I didn’t like.”
I don’t have any tattoos myself—a soul-curdling fear of needles being one central reason—but when I see a work like Elisa’s and hear about her inspiration, I can almost imagine it. Almost.
News: Guest Posts
Begging for scraps in the Cubist style
When I lived in New York, I had the good fortune to visit a few museums in the company of Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With him, there was no slow shuffling past endless works, dedicating a minute or two to each. Instead we hoofed through galleries intent on a destination, with Hoving discouraging us from taking in the sights along the way. Then we’d arrive at the pre-selected work, with fresh eyes, and spend time, lots of it, taking in one piece. I learned that one masterpiece appreciated deeply is, for me, a richer experience than taking in many works superficially. To this day, that’s how I do most big museums.
What’s this got to do with Bark? Well, if you live anywhere near Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Conn., consider taking the Hoving-approach to their current Picasso exhibition. Leave most of the 70 works to the others, and spend some serious time with his wonderful 1921 Cubist dog painting—“Dog and Cock.”
A pointy-eared pooch with fringy fur sniffs at the edge of a fully loaded dinner table. Tongue out. Not only do we see this scene played out more than we’d like in our own homes, dogs begging at banquets are a long artistic tradition. The light humor of this familiar moment makes appreciating Picasso’s Cubist technique a total delight.
Learn more about Bark’s take on this masterwork in the May 2009 issue. “Picasso and the Allure of Language” runs through May 24 at the Yale University Art Gallery, Chapel and York Streets, New Haven.
Bonus Track: Picasso was no stranger to the habits of dogs. He shared his life with many including Lump the Dachshund, an Afghan Hound named Kabul, and a Boxer named Jan. To see fantastic images of Pablo Picasso and his canine confrères, check out David Douglas Duncan’s online Picasso gallery.
News: Guest Posts
Don't miss Mascot Studio’s 10th Annual Dog Show
If your Big Apple pupster enjoys a little high culture, perambulate on down to New York City’s dog-friendly East Village. Through March 21, Mascot Studio (328 E. Ninth St.) celebrates man’s best muse with its 10th Annual Dog Show—featuring canine-themed oils, watercolors, illustrations, photography and collage by artists including studio owner Peter McCaffrey, Anne Watkins and Luba Jane Blatman (both of whom have graced Bark’s pages), Laura Sue Philips, June Moss, Anthony Freda, Jane O’Hara, Irit Cohen, Eric Ginsburg, Sebastian Piras, Aaron Meshon and selected vintage works. Look for the Cave Canem shingle with the mascot’s mug, inspired by Pete the Pup of Our Gang fame. Open Tues.-Sat., 1-7 p.m.
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.
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
2. Roy De Forest: Painting the Big Painting; January 8–February 28; Brian Gross Fine Art; San Francisco, CA
3. Pets in America; September 13, 2008–February 1; Stamford Museum & Nature Center; Stamford, CT
4. The Beauty of the Beasts: Artists and their Pets in 20th-Century Art; January 7–March 16; Art Institute of Chicago; Chicago, IL
5. Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors; January 27–April 19; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, NY
6. Dog Days Auction Sale; February 10; Bonhams New York; New York, NY
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,
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
9. Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective; May 20–August 16; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, NY
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
Have a recommendation for a dog-themed exhibit? Share it with our readers by posting a comment below.
News: Guest Posts
Controversial New Yorker cartoonist Barry Blitt provides a learning opportunity re: "vetting" with his Obama and the dogs cover this week. (Thanks to Media Bistro and William Safire.) It's amazing how much press traction this not-quite-cabinet-level pick continues to receive. Meanwhile you gotta love the mixed-breed look of the big, gray dog in Blitt's tableau--a vote for mutts?
Paul Gauguin, who seemed to be running away to an “elsewhere,” lived an extraordinary life. In doing so, he helped craft an almost mythological image of himself, an image that inspired the title of a current exhibit at the National Gallery of Art: “Gauguin: Maker of Myth.” In writing about it for the New York Times, Holland Cotter characterized the artist as “a dreadful man who made some beautiful art.” Perhaps because of this, much has been written about Gauguin by art historians, critics, novelists, biographers (including his son) and himself (in his memoirs); even a couple of operas. All have tried to understand how an untrained former sailor, stockbroker and world traveler could create such a remarkable body of work. Perhaps the most likely explanation comes from the artist himself: “My life has always been very restless and uneven. In me [are] a great many mixtures.”
Born in 1848, he had an unconventional ancestry. A grandmother from Peru was an early French feminist; his father was an outspoken journalist who in 1849 fled Paris for Lima with his family, and died during the voyage. The family stayed on in Peru, living with an eccentric and powerful great-uncle, the country’s last Spanish viceroy. When Gauguin was six, the family returned to France. As one biographer noted, “in his exotic and restless childhood lies the explanation for the adult painter’s attraction to distant lands.”
Gauguin enlisted in the French merchant navy at 17, and spent the next six years at sea. By 1872, he was a Parisian stockbroker with a secure bourgeois life and a Danish wife (they had five children over the course of 10 years). During this time, he also began dabbling in art, both as a collector and an amateur Sunday-afternoon painter. His star rose quickly. In 1874, he met Camille Pissarro, and by ’76, his work was exhibited with other artists; three years later, Degas and Pissarro invited him to show his work in the Fourth Impressionist Exhibition. Throughout this time, Gauguin continued to be employed as a stockbroker. In 1883, he abandoned his career after a market crash and became a full-time artist, a decision not endorsed by his wife.
He moved to Brittany (sans family), where many artists had flocked. Here, he distanced himself from the Impressionists—too imitative for him— and set out to forge a new approach, tapping into a rural, more “primitive” culture. Gauguin experimented with a style called “Synthétisme,” which emphasized two-dimensional, flat, fundamental patterns. An early example of this can be seen in Harvest: Le Pouldu, which was said to feature Gauguin’s own dog. He was also influenced by Emile Bernard’s “Cloisonnism”— flat areas of color with bold outlines (see Still Life with Three Puppies). Throughout his experimentation with different compositional styles, he remained obsessed with his favorite theme: the unity of man and nature. That focus led him to adopt (some say “create”) the Primitivism style that reached its apogee in his work from Tahiti.
Not content with his progress within the confines of the French art world, and seeking “to have peace and quiet, to be rid of the influence of civilization … to produce something new … to return to the original source, to the childhood of mankind,” he moved to Tahiti in 1891. Many of the paintings for which he is best known followed. Often, as with his earlier work, they included dogs, such as in Arearea and Tahitian Pastorals. But his masterpiece, painted in 1897–98, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, best expresses his struggles with the fundamental meaning of existence. By then syphilitic, penniless and suicidal, Gauguin created this work after receiving news of his daughter’s death. It was his largest piece — painted on sackcloth strips that he had stitched together — and he instructed that it be read from right to left; the black dog at the far right, above the infant, was said to represent the artist.
He died in 1903, already a legend to the avant-garde back in Paris, but this recognition was unbeknownst to him.
Love Is a Dog exhibit
Artist Dan Adams packs a lot of dog energy and expressiveness into his compact oil paintings.
A painter’s view of family and friends.
In one of his earliest paintings, simply titled Woman with Dog, the painter of private French life Pierre Bonnard caught his sister Andrée as she solemnly leaned down to touch the family pet; in response, the dog knowingly raised a paw to “shake.” In this gentle, sweet scene, the figures turn inward; at the bottom, near the center of the composition, hand and paw come together, forming a triangle within the frame of the painting. Despite the apparent unity of the scene, the dog’s attention strays; his eye, a beady brown spot of paint, looks into a world beyond the frame. The dual nature of this scene—domesticated dog with a wandering eye—recurred in varying forms throughout the artist’s career. Photographs taken at family gatherings and sketches drawn in private moments at home tell us that dogs were a primary presence in Bonnard’s everyday life. They were companions in his daily walks, and he wrote of them in his letters. A memorable photograph taken by the noted photographer André Ostier shows an aged Bonnard tenderly cradling his Dachshund on his lap. In this picture, Bonnard stares solemnly at the camera and the dog looks away—as in his paintings, intimacy and isolation exist side by side.
The year after he painted Woman with Dog, Bonnard set out on his own eccentric path to domesticity when he met Maria Boursin, the woman who called herself Marthe de Méligny. The two became lovers, living together for 32 years before marrying in 1925, the year the artist bought a house in Le Cannet in the south of France. Over the course of their lives, whether in a Parisian apartment at the foot ofMontmartre or at their house, Le Bosquet, in the Midi, Bonnard followed Marthe from room to room, sketching her as she bathed, dressed and ate.He later synthesized these sketches into major paintings—some were of Marthe and their Dachshund at table, others were scenes of Marthe in her bath with the dog nearby. In these works, the model and muse dissolves in light and fuses with the interior space. In contrast, the dog gazes outward, a dark and witty presence in an otherwise harmonious scene.
In 1913, Bonnard began a series of etchings for Dingo, the classic tale of a wild Australian dog by Octave Mirbeau, a popular Parisian writer and critic.Uncorrupted by social institutions, the maverick pup tried, and usually failed, to adapt to French civilization.At about the same time as Bonnard began these illustrations, a dignified Dachshund, the very opposite of the raffish Dingo, found a place in his paintings.
In Dressing Table with Mirror, for example, painted in the year he began the Dingo etchings, Bonnard abandoned the freewheeling stray in favor of his own little pet. Here the dog is triply trapped, enclosed once by the actual frame of the painting, next by the frame of a mirror and finally by a small square red rug. For all its apparent normality and pretty color, Dressing Table with Mirror presents an uncomfortable scene. In the foreground are ordinary objects: a brush, a soap dish, a vase of flowers, bottles of perfume and a large oval bowl, emblems ofMarthe’s private world. In contrast, in the reflected scene above the table, the dog tensely crouches at the bottom of a bed;Marthe sits at the other end, a decapitated nude. One can only wonder at the brutality suggested by that view. Yet table, objects, mirror and nude blend together in soft shades of blue, orange, lavender, white and cream. A solid dark form of the Dachshund, squarely centered inside the mirror’s frame, strikes a dark, dissonant note in a tranquil sea of pastels. But there is a contradiction here. This pup is funny, too. Out of place, incongruous, he solemnly shares a bed with his mistress.
In the 1890s, Bonnard belonged to a brotherhood of adventurous artists; they called themselves the Nabis (the Hebrew and Arabic word for prophet). Each member of the group had a nickname; Bonnard was punningly called the “japonard.” Captivated by the flat planes of color and intimate interiors he found in Japanese woodblock prints, the artist liberally borrowed these forms and conventions for his own work. In prints, Japanese artists often signed their names against a rectangular block of color—the signature carefully set apart from the scene. In Dressing Table with Mirror, the dog on his rectangular red cloth mimics the form of these signs.
In one dining room scene, Woman with a Basket of Fruit, a pannier bursting with overripe apples, pears and bananas rests on a snowy white cloth and dominates the composition. At the top,Marthe, a remote figure behind the basket, rests her head on one hand as she dreamily looks off into space. Her head echoes the shape of the basket, her blouse blends into the tablecloth, and her red collar and cuffs repeat the apple red of the fruit. Though she is physically one with the scene, her gaze reveals that her mind is wandering afield. Below, her canine companion, a profile head without a body, pokes his nose hopefully upward—a silhouette against the white cloth. Though the tip of the dog’s nose aligns neatly with Marthe’s nostril above, there is no eye contact between the two; the dog’s eye, like that of a pharaoh, stares unblinkingly outward. This could be a quick snapshot of ordinary life, an unremarkable moment with Marthe and her dog. It is as well a funny correspondence of noses. But viewed in another way, the scene echoes with loneliness. The figures catch separate scents, those that evoke longing for different worlds beyond a limiting frame.
Though there is no clear equation of dog with artist in this dining room scene, a correspondence occurs, as it did in the Dressing Table with Mirror, in some later works picturing Marthe in the bathroom at Le Bosquet. The strangest and perhaps the most magnificent of these bathtub paintings was also one of Bonnard’s last works. He began Nude in Bathtub in 1941 and worked on the painting long after Marthe died in January 1942. Even four years after his wife’s death and a year before his own, the artist continued to add touches to the work. In this scene,Marthe lies entombed, floating in a narrow oval tub that, in turn, floats in the shifting space of the room. Intense, prismatic colors describe a grid of tiles on the walls and floor; these colors—orange, yellow, blue and magenta— bleed from the background and define Marthe’s body. Hazy brushstrokes fuse her with the ambiguous space of the room. Dead center in the foreground, the incongruous Dachshund intrudes. A tight little body with his head raised up, the dog is framed by a square of dappled pink rug, a restatement of the Japanese signature. In this scene, he is neither a comic wiener dog and prankish pup nor a loyal companion and placid presence. The Dachshund, like the artist always sketching, intrudes on Marthe’s privacy, a jarring note in a lyrical scene. Perhaps here the dog, as elsewhere, really is Bonnard standing watch.
An artist's life and the dogs who have shared it, is examined
When Paul Fierlinger was living in Prague in the 1960s, his dogs kept his spirit alive. Living under totalitarian rule, surrounded by suspicion and class hatred, Fierlinger might have perished had it not been for Roosevelt, a charmer who knew how to sneak into restaurants undetected, and Ike, a friend so vital, true and ultimately essential that in six years Fierlinger was never once separated from him.
Those are just two of the tales of dog love that Fierlinger, an animator who emigrated to the United States in 1968, shares in his autobiographical 26-minute documentary, Still Life with Animated Dogs. Kind in nature, but tempered by Fierlinger’s sardonic Eastern European humor, Still Life is a marvelous work that offers more emotion, poetry and reflective wisdom than the vast majority of feature-length, live-action films.
Narrated by Fierlinger, who draws and animates himself at various stages of his dog-loving existence, Still Life is broken into episodes, each one remembering a special dog and the lessons he left behind. The animation is deft and surprisingly expressive, and the original music by composer John Avarese underscores the film’s delicate, affectionate, never-sentimental tone.
I loved this film, pure and simple, and recommend it with unabashed enthusiasm to anyone who loves dogs--and even to those not lucky enough to include themselves in that category. I make a living as a movie critic, so I see upward of 200 films per year--the good, the dreadful, the instantly forgettable. I doubt if I’ll see much this year that speaks to me more deeply than Still Life with Animated Dogs.
At 64, Fierlinger has owned a series of dogs, watched them with an acute eye and in Still Life finds occasion to speculate on the mystery of dogs and our relationship to them. He opens with the story of Spinnaker, a terrier who was picked up on the roadside by a dog lover en route to a picnic for Animal Rescue Society volunteers. The dog found his way to the home that Fierlinger shares with his wife and collaborator, Sandra, and quickly became the filmmaker’s constant companion.
Taking his friend on a walk through the woods Fierlinger, overhears the fatuous conversation of other dog owners and contrasts it with Spinnaker’s avid engagement with the natural world. What’s the secret of his dog’s unfathomable levels of perception? When Spinnaker stretches and bows, Fierlinger reasons, “He’s really saying, ‘Follow me.’ We are both practicing anthropomorphism...My dog uses the same signals with me as he would use with any other dog.”
From here, Fierlinger drifts into reveries of the dogs he lived with in Czechoslovakia and named after American presidents. His great love, its seems, was Ike, a burly but gentle guy who, on the day they met, walked across the entire city of Prauge with Ferlinger.
That hike, he says, “created a stronger bond that any amount of treats would ever have accomplished.” Together, they formed “an intimacy that only occasionally transpires between separate species.”
It’s upsetting, therefore, to see what happens next, when Fierlinger get his chance to leave Czechoslovakia and has to decide what do with Ike.
After 40 years as an animator, with TV commercials, political ads and shorts for “Sesame Street” under his belt, Fierlinger has the gift of saying a lot with his fanciful, deceptively simple art. His rendering of his crowded attic in Prague, for example, is so rich with detail and atmosphere that we can imagine how the room smelled, and feel how the cold wind felt as it leaked through the windows.
But Still Life is most amazing is its ability to incite our emotions. When Fierlinger recreates the day one of his dogs was hit by a car, I found myself jumping forward and yelling “No!” at the TV screen--astonished by the realism, but also reminded of the day my Cocker Spaniel, Nicky, was injured.
Still Life with Animated Dogs has that kind of power: to startle us, remind us of dogs we’ve known and cherished and illustrate the puzzling, ultimately unknowable nature of our friends. “Dogs were put on earth to make us better people,” a friend of mine likes to say, and Fierlinger’s film, at its best, offers unimpeachable proof of that fact.
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