Why paint dogs? Why not? I had resisted painting my studio mate, Monty, even though his steadfastness, his inscrutable expression, and his demeanor, which seemed a combination of nobility and obtuseness made him a perfect subject, because I thought it too sentimental. He was my constant, loving, comical, and, sometimes, bored friend. How would I make a painting that would be objective and at the same time reveal my affection? I was aware that there are great paintings of dogs throughout the history of art, and that literary figures like Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, among others, have written eloquently about the extraordinary relationship that can exist between dogs and people. On long dog walks as we passed other canines the concept of painting dogs festered in my thoughts.
Something changed for me, during a trip to Egypt, when I spotted a slightly unkempt shaggy looking white dog on his own, lying outstretched on a cool gray pebbled path, leaning against a sun drenched pink stained wall underneath a gorgeous Cairenian (Egypt) sky. It was all there including the emotional distance I needed to get to see the elements of a painting right in front of me --- light, color and texture… plus a dog. I took a load of photos and once back home I’d found my way and made that first painting by putting together a maquette from the pictures.
Dogs don’t stay in one position very long unless they’re asleep, and a single sound, or a smell, will make them leap up, so I take about 25-30 pictures in order to get a model. The cool distance that the camera creates between the subject and me lets me craft an objective portrayal and avoid sentimentality. I choose my subjects who I meet on the street and then I engage with the people who live with them to arrange a session of photographs from the willing. Over the years I have received letters from the people who live with the dogs I paint and they are consistently full of respect, passion, humor and complete acceptance of the transgressions and bad habits of Sadie, or Elsa, or Sophie, or Sprig, etc. etc. I think we would be better off if we could see our children in similar manner.
In some ways I think my paintings of dogs represent both a search for, and homage to the many attributes of canine character such as courage, vigilance, and loyalty that define stories my parents told me as a child about their dogs. Whatever else people may see in the paintings my objective is to capture the fleeting transience of dogs’ lives.
Not unlike the letter writers mentioned above my own message to family and friends upon the death of Nelson, our English Cocker Spaniel, reflects the temperament of a lover of dogs.
"Our dear “Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson” aka Nelson, aged 13 years, passed on August 23, 2010. He was grand dog to Leo, Margot, Pablo, Levi, Satchel, and his cousin Katya, and to Alfie, also a dog.
We remember with admiration and good humor his early rapscallion ways including his heroic capture of two squirrels, his two-week incarceration by the dog warden for biting a mean old lady who pressed charges even though his nip didn’t break the skin, and various other misdeeds for which he suffered little humiliation. In the neighborhood he was known for his outstanding good looks – his handsome coat, his pointed head and his long nose, all of which came from his lineage going back to Sissinghurst Castle in England, home of Vita Sackville West. He was a consummate snob.
On the home front he was our loyal and faithful companion leading Orin on walks at least three times a day, sometimes four, and spending his mornings and afternoons (between walks) in Jane’s studio. His attitude towards piano music may best be described as indifferent but tolerant and towards the fine arts as blasé for he was color blind… .”
We scattered his ashes with his brother the Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery aka ‘Monty’ at the park where they both loved to run and walk and smell the flowers and roll in the mud in the nearby swamp…. “