Maira Kalman’s new book, Beloved Dog (Penguin Press), illuminates her friendship with her first dog, Pete. Kalman, who movingly writes, “It is very true that the most tender, complicated, most generous part of our being blossoms without any effort when it comes to the love of a dog,” grew up being terrified of them.
Featuring her fanciful paintings and handwritten text, Beloved Dog details a life of love, loss and companionship. It also includes numerous examples of her work, including New Yorker covers and several of her Pete-inspired children’s books. As long-time fans of her delightful, quirky and just a bit offkilter work, we were particularly happy to snag some phone time with her recently. Following are highlights from our conversation.
Bark: Early in the book, you say that you are “besotted by dogs”—what a great term.
Maira Kalman: I used to be afraid of dogs, and that switch-over to realizing how important they are in my life and how completely besotted I am was a wonderful revelation and a great moment.
B: That discovery is pretty magical.
MK: It is, and it really does change the world. It opens things up in ways that were incomprehensible before. I don’t want to liken it to having children, but next to having children, it is that kind of relationship.
B: Tell us about Pete.
MK: I had always thought that if I got a dog, it would be a dog that jumped up— shpringeny—on all four legs, a scruffy kind of animated cartoon. And there he was. From the beginning, he was not only a beloved, beloved companion and an easer of sadness, but also a damn fine model.
B: Having a dog to guide you through the streets of New York must be a great entree into the world.
MK: Yeah, because when you have a purpose, which is “I am walking my dog,” you are already calmer and you have a companion. Of course, when you walk a dog, you have to add at least another half-hour to get to any destination because you meet people, the dog stops, you stop. You’re engaging in ways that you just didn’t do before. People who are walking their dogs usually are delighted to chat. It’s a friendlier world when you have a dog with you.
B: Can you talk about dogs as a subject matter for your paintings and books?
MK: Sometimes the dog is a human character and (of course) a stand-in for me, or a composite of me and other people. The dog is a conduit to emotions and humor, all those universal experiences. The other way that I work is to depict dogs as secondary characters, or digressions—my work is always about digression anyway. So, they populate the landscape the way people do, and contribute to the emotional quality of my paintings. They surprise me— they’re funny. The paintings are really observational journals of my life and the dogs who live in my world.
Showing the world how beautiful they are
The Black Dogs Project is a extraordinary photo series by animal photographer Fred Levy. Known as “Black Dog Syndrome” in animal shelters and rescues, it refers to the unfortunate phenomenon that black dogs are frequently the last dogs to be adopted and the first dogs to be euthanized in animal shelters. Levy has turned his camera lens to black dogs, showing the world how beautiful they truly are and spreading awareness of the problem. A portion of all proceeds from The Black Dogs Project (Quarto) will be donated to black dog rescue. fredlevyart.com
The Bark interview with photographer Amanda Jones
In the great tradition of itinerant photographers, Amanda Jones travels from town to town taking portraits. For more than two decades, she’s used her camera to write the stories of dogs nationwide, capturing them at specific moments in their lives. For her new book, Dog Years (Chronicle Books), Jones extended the narratives of 30 of her subjects—including Bark’s late, great “founding dog,” Nell—by pairing photos of their youthful and mature selves. She shares her insights with Bark art director Cameron Woo.
The term “dog years” suggests time compressed, measuring experiences on another level. What does it mean to you?
I assume that, like me, those who have dogs come to realize that their human lifespan can accommodate those of several canines. My first dog, Lily, who is featured in the book, had a great long life with me: from 12 weeks to 14 years. She moved with me across the U.S several times, she saw the birth of my daughter, she ushered out older rescues and welcomed in new puppies. Now, she’s gone, and as adults, those “new puppies” are welcoming in new rescues. I’m aging as well, and each one of those lives—whether arriving or departing—has an impact on me and on my family.
After all this time, what have you learned about dogs and their people?
Like humans, each dog is unique. They may share many physical similarities, but even siblings from the same litter display distinctive personalities. As for the people … I’ve worked with a wide range of personalities but they all share one thing: they love their animals.
When you were reunited with the dogs for these shoots, sometimes as much as 15 years later, did any of them seem to remember you?
Whether they remembered me specifically, I can’t say with certainty. I do think they remembered the process of the photo shoot and being on the set. In each case, the second shoot seemed to work that much easier. Or, maybe older dogs allow themselves to be more easily manipulated for a treat!
When I look at your portraits, I find myself drawn to the dogs’ eyes—they’re so powerful. What do you try to capture when you photograph your subjects?
I don’t go into a shoot expecting anything specific; I tend to let dogs dictate the nature of the session. If they love balls, then we play with balls and work from that activity. If they like to lie around and be mellow, I get creative and do some interesting portrait work.
What’s it like to connect with people and their dogs over time and across the country?
I have the best clients in the world; they’re the reason I get up in the morning and do what I do. In many cases, they have become best friends. I travel a lot and, as you can imagine, each trip presents logistical hurdles. These days, I have clients who are willing to share things that make my time on the road much more pleasant: places to stay, cars to drive, home-cooked meals to eat. And, of course, dogs are the glue that holds us together. What could be better than that?
As you assembled these matchups, did anything in particular jump out at you?
As you mentioned, it’s all about the eyes. Peering into those eyes several years later, I still see that certain spark. The muzzle goes gray and the body gets lumpy and jowly, but the soul is still the same. It amazes me.
What about the dogs in your life today?
There’s Benny, a shorthaired, silver-dapple Dachshund, and Ladybug, a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix. Ladybug is a recent rescue; her photo was posted on Instagram through an NYC rescue group and the second I saw it, I knew she was the dog for our family. Social media is an amazing way to spread awareness of animals in need of homes! And, of course, I still miss Lily, who inspired Dog Years.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just like a baby (and maybe cuter)
Years ago, my husband brought our seven-month old son to an all-day seminar I was giving on dog aggression so that I could feed him during the breaks. In many situations, a man carrying a baby would attract a lot of attention from women, but not in this case. There were about 200 people at the seminar, and approximately 180 of them were women. During the course of the day, only a handful of them approached my husband, and all but two of them came over to share puppy photos with him. (“Look! You have a young animal in your life. I have a young animal in my life, too!”)
I’ve noticed over the years that in the world of dogs, there are many people who are just not that into kids. It’s especially true for people whose professional lives revolve around dogs. I’m fond of saying that as a group, we dog people are not very “breedy.” Of course there are tons of exceptions (I myself have two human children), but many dog people are not as child-oriented as the rest of the population.
Any couple who does not have children has probably faced questions and criticisms about that, which is obviously rude. It’s thoughtless, narrow-minded, and potentially hurtful (not to sound judgmental or anything) to ask people personal questions about when they are going to have kids or why they don’t have kids. It’s nobody’s business, and it’s impossible to know if a couple has decided not to have children or if perhaps they have been unable to have children even though they want them very much. Either situation may involve a couple who is very focused on their canine companions, and that is a beautiful thing.
One couple took an unusual approach to letting their families know that they should not expect a human grandchild. They had a photo shoot with their puppy that mimicked the popular “new baby” photo sessions. The result was a gorgeous set of photos by Elisha Minnette Photography. It looks like they enjoyed themselves and judging by the response, many people share their sense of humor.
>Are you tempted to do a “new dog” photo shoot with your best friend?
Even the apocalypse can’t keep good dogs down.
You wouldn’t think dogs and post-apocalyptic horror comics would go together, but you’d be wrong. In Avatar Press’s six-issue series, Rover Red Charlie—now available in collected form—writer Garth Ennis and artist Michael DiPascale put our best friends in the worst of circumstances: at the end of the world. Well, the human world, anyway. Fortunately, these canines are more than up to the challenge. Rover Red Charlie offers an uncanny insight into dogs and what life must be like from their point of view.
The comic features three dogs—Rover, Red and Charlie—trying to survive in a world in which all the humans have gone crazy and become violent for unknown reasons. We’re immediately shown the terrible predicament of seeing-eye dog Charlie: his leash is wrapped tightly around his owner’s hands, and his owner is on fire. Charlie is rescued by Red and Rover, who chew through the leash.
Rover, a Bassett Hound from England, is the cynic of the bunch; this character allows Irish writer Ennis to utilize plenty of appropriate slang. Red (a Red Setter) is the dumb, sweet, brave one who is also obsessed with the smell of his butt. Charlie, a Collie, is ever-proud of his guide dog vest and, as the most trained of the three, least equipped for the chaotic new world. The three pooches band together to survive and explore this new environment, meeting a variety of dogs and other critters in a cross-county journey from (as the dogs put it) the big splash to the bigger splash.
In Bleeding Cool, Ennis—well-known for classic runs on Marvel’s The Punisher and creator-owned Preacher—explained that the story “was inspired by an old painting that used to hang on the wall of my grandparent’s kitchen and now hangs on the wall of my office. It’s just head shots of three dogs. I think it was called ‘Faithful Friends,’ and I guess I waited 40-odd years to send them on an adventure. The other inspiration was when I figured out what dogs were saying when they barked.”
Ennis decided that barking means, “I’m a dog! I’m a dog!” This refrain is used powerfully throughout the book, with a few humorous variations, such as puppies yapping “I’m a pup! I’m a pup!” and an oddball Dachshund proclaiming “I’m a fish!” For Ennis, doglish is English plus these dogs’ own distinctive vocabulary, in which people are feeders, cats are hisspots, a heart is a thumper, the ocean is the big splash, fire is the burn, chickens are bork-borkers and Chihuahuas are me-dogs (because they bark “What about me? What about me?”). I’d buy a companion glossary to this comic in a second.
Our three heroes have differing views on the feeders and this changed world. Red and Rover are more accepting of the new state of affairs; Rover expresses a thought all dogs might have if they could put together a sentence: “Any time I got near anything interesting, I hardly had time for a sniff before I heard—Rover! No!” Charlie, the service dog, has more trouble letting go. He doesn’t want freedom, even when the three dogs pretty much have it made on a farm. The saddest words in the book might be Charlie’s plea: “I just want to be told what to do again.”
DiPascale’s art is naturalistic, kinetic and humane. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time around dogs because he nails not just the specific breeds, but dogs’ distinctive body language. Whether they’re feeling playful, confused, scared or defiant, DiPascale puts them in poses dog owners will recognize as true. There’s also a visual sense of humor to match Ennis’s wit: for example, the way he draws Rover running—flying folds of flapping flesh—is both true-to-life and funny. The real triumph of DiPascale’s beautiful painted art, however, is the faces, which are equally cartoony and realistic, expressing openness and honesty. Even if these dogs weren’t born charmers in terrible circumstances, you’d love them just for their mugs.
I asked Ennis by email why comics about dogs are so appealing, and he guessed anthropomorphism, adding, “…watching a dog sniffing around, frowning and shoving his nose in things, you can't help but attribute human motivation to him. Logically you know he's thinking—food, food, food, food, water, food, food, food—but your mind automatically comes up with thoughts that appear to match his expression and actions.”
A warning: This series isn’t going to work for squeamish readers. It is a horror story, and there is some gruesome violence, some of which happens to dogs. That’s usually a dealbreaker for me; I stopped watching the TV version of Fargo after a gratuitous dog death. But the violence in this comic is necessary for the horror genre, and without spoiling things too much, I can say the ending is far from a downer.
In fact, the ending is pretty damn inspiring: it makes you think that if we feeders were gone and the world literally went to the dogs, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Culture: Stories & Lit
By the time George had come into my life, I had more than three hundred convictions to my name and had been in prison over thirty times.
You might be thinking that I couldn’t have been much of a thief to get caught so many times over the years, but the truth is I found it so hard to cope with life on the outside that I had started to effectively check myself in to prison for the winter. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even bother to cover my tracks while I was out burgling. I’d deliberately not wear gloves so I’d leave fingerprints, or I wouldn’t clean up after myself if I grazed my arm and started bleeding.
I knew what I was letting myself in for in jail, but at least inside I didn’t have to worry about having a roof over my head and feeding myself, which was sometimes too difficult to deal with on the streets.
It’s exhausting being homeless, shifting between day centres and hostels or missions, or sleeping in cars and bin sheds as I had to do after losing my flat in President House. Sometimes I was so desperate I felt like chucking a brick through a police station window and holding out my hands for the cuffs, just so I could get a bed for the night.
I was stuck in one such cycle the day George came into my life. He turned up after I’d been out of prison for about seven or eight months, and the cold winter of 2009 was really setting in. Under normal circumstances, I’d have been thinking about getting sloppy on the next job, so as to get myself a short stay inside that would tide me over until the weather warmed up.
As it was, George had his feet well and truly under the table by the time I got round to thinking about that, and that threw a bloody big spanner in the works. If I went to prison, I would lose George. It was as simple as that. We’d come too far for me to even consider that an option. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, I had someone other than myself to care for, and it had filled my life with meaning.
Over the years, I had met a few girls and I’d had a few relationships here and there, but nothing that had lasted more than a couple of months at most. I’d seen how my brothers and sister were with their children and how much love they had for them; I was beginning to feel that way about George.
My feelings for him became crystal clear to me one day when we were sitting outside Fenchurch Street station and a well-to-do woman came up to us and started raving about George.
‘What a lovely dog!’ she said, scratching him on his head and generally making a big fuss of him. ‘He’s absolutely gorgeous! I’ve never see such a cute Staffie. I don’t suppose you would let me buy him off you?’
I was completely stunned and totally speechless. Who was she to ask that?
‘He’s absolutely fantastic,’ she continued. ‘I’d give you a really good price …’ She started to say she could pay £2,000 cash, but I stopped her in her tracks.
‘Look, no offence, miss, but have you got kids?’ I asked her.
‘Yes, but I know Staffies and I’m sure he’s good around children …’
‘No, forget that. What I’m saying is, how would you feel if I asked you if I could buy one of your kids?’
She looked at me in confusion.
‘You see the thing is, George is like my son. I love him like he’s my own flesh and blood. I wouldn’t sell him for two grand. I wouldn’t even sell him for a hundred grand. He’s too important to me.’
She was very gracious about having her offer turned down flat. There were no hard feelings and even George had a twinkle in his eye when the lady walked away.
Anyhow, that conversation had cemented what I already knew to be true; I was sticking with George come hell or high water. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, not in those early months. George meant a hell of a lot more to me than anything else in the world. I loved him, and losing him was unthinkable.
When we sat together on the floor of my bedsit, I was remembering that woman and the crazy amount of money she’d offered for George. Two thousand pounds would have been mighty nice right then.
‘I should have sold you to that lady, George. Could have got myself a nice gold watch for that.’
George let out a sigh, lay down and put his head between his front paws. He looked quite sad, to tell the truth, and I felt bad.
‘Oi, listen, I was only joking. It ain’t your fault,’ I said. His ears pricked up.
‘Well I suppose it is, you daft git,’ I laughed, ‘but that’s a good thing, mate. Don’t you worry.’
I thought back over the time I’d had George. I had barely let him out of my sight since the day I took him on. I wouldn’t even leave him tied up outside Tesco if I needed a tin of dog food; I’d always ask a mate I trusted to keep an eye on him for a minute, and I’d dash in as quickly as I could.
To begin with I was terrified of the mad Scot showing up, and then after that lady tried to buy him, I was scared stiff of him being stolen.
Leaving George alone to go out thieving was completely out of the question. My gammy leg already made that difficult, because I wasn’t as nimble as I used to be. What if I got caught and was put in the cells overnight? Who would feed the dog and take him out? I knew full well I would lose George for good if I got locked up, because there was nobody I knew who would be able to look after him for me for any length of time.
‘That ain’t happening,’ I said out loud, thinking about being banged up again. ‘I need to get a job.’
George was sitting up attentively now and had one of those looks on his face that said ‘Silly bastard, how you gonna do that?’ but I wanted him to know what was on my mind. I suppose I was a silly bastard to think he might have understood, but he seemed to be listening to me.
I know I was also a very stupid bastard for being nearly forty and having no job prospects whatsoever. Who would take me on with a criminal record as long as mine? It read like a telephone directory. And, even if some poor bugger was mad enough to take a chance on me, how would I manage to hold down a job with George by my side? It was beyond me.
There was only one thing for it. I didn’t want to have to rely on begging forever, but I knew I had to carry on doing it in the short term at least, or the pair of us would starve. It was that simple.
‘Come on, George,’ I said. ‘Let’s go and take a little stroll down Shoreditch High Street.’
From George the Dog, John the Artist by John Dolan. Copyright © 2014 by John Dolan. Published in 2015 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers Inc. www.overlookpress.com. All rights reserved.
News: Guest Posts
National Portrait Gallery exhibit reminds us why we love her
A riveting photographic exhibition, Portraits of an Icon, recently opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery illustrates the life of actress and fashion maven Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). This exhibit features photographs from Hepburn's early years in London as a dancer to her later years as an impassioned philanthropist. From the museum’s description:
“A selection of more than seventy images defines Hepburn’s iconography, including classic and rarely seen prints from photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn. Alongside these, an array of vintage magazine covers, film stills, and extraordinary archival material complete her captivating story.”
Hepburn is revered for her performances in a string of films produced in ’50s and ’60s including: Gigi, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, My Fair Lady and Funny Face (my personal favorite). Along with her acting and humanitarian work with UNICEF, Hepburn was also an avid animal lover. Dogs were an important part of her family for much of her life. Her dog, Mr. Famous, is one of her best known companions. He traveled with the actress to film locations and photo shoots, and even had a cameo in 1957’s Funny Face. It was a common sight to see Hepburn and her beloved Yorkie bicycling around studio lots during breaks in filming.
The camera loved Hepburn’s natural beauty and inimitable style. The best images on display in Portraits of an Icon radiate an inner quality seldom captured on film. Like the subject herself, the portraits display a wide range, showing Hepburn as a young ballerina, Hollywood actress, fashion model, humanitarian. For those fortunate to attend the exhibit, they will find more reasons to fall in love with Audrey Hepburn (and her canine co-pilots).
Portraits of an Icon appears at the National Portrait Gallery in London through October 18, 2015. For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.
The play I was watching was just 10 minutes in when a black Labrador jumped up next to me and settled in for a nap. This was going to be no ordinary theater experience.
I was at JACK, a performing-arts space in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see Comfort Dogs: Live from the Pink House, the latest experimental play written and directed by William Burke. The Labrador, Gypsy, along with mixed-breed pups Bronco and Bluet, was part of the play’s canine cast.
Comfort Dogs explores the relationship between humans and canines, and our dependence on them, through music and spoken word. Burke was inspired to create the play after reading about therapy dogs visiting a local nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It sparked his curiosity about the emotional responsibility we assign to dogs, and their willingness to stay by our side despite not understanding most of what we say or do.
Normally, when dogs are involved in theatrical productions, their roles are carefully scripted and their behaviors are thoroughly rehearsed. Burke wanted something that felt more natural and spontaneous for Comfort Dogs.
“I didn’t want trained dogs doing things because they had to. That’s not what we were trying to do,” Burke explained. “The idea was to create an environment where the dogs could do anything they wanted, and no one would tell them not to be a dog.”
The result was about an hour of organic interaction between human and canine actors that complemented the play’s monologues and songs. The people also acted like dogs, sniffing, howling and scratching, while the three canine stars were free to be themselves. The dogs’ unscripted roles also meant that each show was unique. It felt like canine improv.
Working with animals, especially in an unscripted setting, presents logistical challenges—among them, finding the ideal performance space. An early iteration that enclosed the dogs on stage, per the original theater’s requirements, took away from the show’s free spirit. The space at JACK allowed Comfort Dogs to unfold as Burke had originally envisioned, showcasing the dogs’ natural behavior.
The three canine actors, each a different breed, size and personality, complemented each other as well, although they were primarily chosen because they were familiar with all of the people on stage. Bronco is Burke’s dog; Gypsy is bass player Paul Ketchum’s pup; and Bluet, whom Burke rescued from a local park, now lives with a friend. The actors’ existing relationships with the dogs grew as they worked on the play together.
It will also come as no surprise to any dog lover that the human actors learned a lot from being on stage with their canine counterparts.
“When you’re an actor, you always talk about ‘being present’ on stage,” says Burke. “With the dogs, they’re present all the time. It was certainly exciting to see.”
Now that Comfort Dogs has closed, the director hopes to work on a longer piece that incorporates more dogs. One of his ideas is to partner with a local shelter so that audience members could adopt the canine actors, making the play even more immersive.
It was refreshing to see Comfort Dogs explore canine theater in this manner, and I look forward to Burke’s next work. Incorporating shelter pups would be an exciting way to give back to dogs, who give us so much.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A world gone mad
The photographs of dog shadows by Thomas Roma capture the form and motion of dogs in a way that pictures of their actual bodies don’t. Roma went to a local dog park in Brooklyn almost daily for years to photograph shadows of dogs. By shooting from a different perspective (quite literally, as his camera was mounted on a seven-foot pole) he revealed something quite different. These dogs have a beauty that comes from the simplicity of their forms.
In Roma’s photos, the shadows both look like the dogs who cast them and appear very different. They are distorted and yet reveal the true essence of the dog form, too. It’s unlikely that anyone would view these photos and not think of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which people trapped in a cave mistake shadows projected onto the wall of the cave for reality because they are unable to see anything but these shadows.
The photographer himself has said that the shadows and their photographs remind him of cave paintings. He loved the dusty pebbled ground and the way it was fresh and new each day. He continued to photograph dogs at the park until the city renovated it and changed the surface.
Roma calls his dog shadow photographs “Mondo Cane” which is Italian for “Dog World” but is also an idiomatic expression meaning “A World Gone Mad.” These photographs have been exhibited in New York, Rome and Tokyo and sold all around the globe.
Who’s inspired to turn their own lens to the shadows of our dogs?
Bark welcomes the news of an entertaining auction at Christie’s titled Best in Show which features an array of animal-inspired works by the master of Pop Art, Andy Warhol. The upcoming online only sale includes over 100 lots of silver gelatin prints, Polaroids, screenprints and drawings by Warhol. It’s a rare glimpse of the art and ephemera that inspired Andy’s life, and reflects his love of animals—cats, horses, cows, birds, and, of course, dogs. Enjoy the online catalog, bidding continues until May 5, 2015.
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