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.