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Tag: art

Is this why “The Blue Boy” is blue?

The_Blue_Boy“The Blue Boy,” artist Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous work, featured a dog at one point in its evolution, and come September you’ll have a chance to see its ghostly image in person.

At some point in its creation, “The Blue Boy” lost his dog. Gainsborough painted over the fluffy white dog in the painting’s lower right hand corner, covering it with a pile of rocks.

Not until 1994, when an X-ray revealed the dog sitting by his master’s feet, did that become known to the world.

The painting’s ongoing restoration at The Huntington Library in California is now becoming an exhibit in itself, featuring a look at the painting’s history, mysteries, and artistic virtues, the revelations X-rays have provided over the years and explanations of the techniques being used to restore the work.

Project Blue Boy will open Sept. 22 at the Huntington, where the original painting has resided since 1921.

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Of course, the boy’s blueness had nothing to do with any feelings of melancholy; instead the painting depicts a young man who appears confident, proud of his station in life and maybe a little bit defiant, as if prepared to defend himself against any teasing about his frilly blue outfit and plumed hat.

The painting isn’t as vibrant as it once once, and that’s why the museum has undertaken the restoration project.

“Earlier conservation treatments have involved adding new layers of varnish as temporary solutions to keep it on view as much as possible,” said senior paintings conservator and “Project Blue Boy” co-curator Christina O’Connell.

“The original colors now appear hazy and dull and many of the details are obscured,” she added.

In addition to contributing to restoration research, the project will likely uncover new information of interest to art historians. O’Connell is using a Haag-Streit surgical microscope to closely examine the painting. To gather material information, she is employing imaging techniques including digital x-radiography, infrared reflectography, ultraviolet fluorescence, and x-ray fluorescence.

The restoration project has also uncovered an An L-shaped tear more than 11-inches long, which is believed to have dated back to the 19th century when the painting was in the collection of the Duke of Westminster.

The painting was sold in 1921 to railroad tycoon Henry Edwards Huntington, leading to an outcry among the English, who were horrified that “The Blue Boy” should leave his homeland. The sales price is believed to have been about $700,000, or about $9.3 million today, which made it the second most expensive painting in the world, behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child.

In 1939, an X-ray was taken of the painting that revealed the canvas had once been an incomplete painting of an older man. The dog didn’t appear in that X-Ray.

Many believe the painting pictured ironmonger Jonathan Buttall, the first owner of the painting, but the true identity of the model remains a mystery.

No one knows why Gainsborough decided to rid the painting of the dog, either.

O’Connell will continue her examination and analysis of “The Blue Boy,” and her efforts to restore it.

Visitors to the Huntington will be able to observe her at work in the Thornton Portrait Gallery on Thursdays, Fridays and select Sundays from Sept. 22 through January 2019, PasadenaNow.com reported.

The painting will get a final treatment and reframing after that and will be rehung in its former location in the Huntington’s portrait gallery in early 2020.

(Photos: At top, the original painting (ca. 1770), lower, the painting under digital x-radiography; courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens)

Are there too many dogs on the Internet?

image001Depictions of dogs, as any one who has ever read the wall of a prehistoric cave knows, date back to well before ancient times.

Pharaohs commissioned artworks of their favorite pets. Portrayals of hunting and images of medieval banquets often featured dogs in the background or foreground. In the Victorian-era, aristocrats hired painters to make portraits of themselves and their pooches.

As the 20th Century dawned, as humans came to live ever closer to the species, artists seized upon the idea of depicting dogs dressed in human attire and doing human things, bringing us such classes artworks as the inimitable (but often imitated) work, Dogs Playing Poker.

Well before photography went digital, before somebody flicked that World Wide Web switch on, dog depictions were being shared — if not as instantly, often, ridiculously and (often) demaningly as they are today on the Internet, and social media in particular.

Even in my earliest days in journalism, back in the 1970’s, I remember some newspapers had a pet writer — someone who penned a pet column, usually weekly. He or she was commonly an older person who performed mostly clerical duties, maybe a secretary for some top editor, who, due to his or her love for dogs, had volunteered for the task, likely at no increase in pay.

He or she would probably feature a dog in need of adoption every week, or write about pet care and training, or simply ask readers to submit photos of their pets for publication — an opportunity many readers seized, sending actual photos through actual mail.

One of the differences between then and now — a time when many a website is telling you how much they would like to see photos of your dog — is that the old clerk/pet writer’s request for photos was more than likely at least partly sincere.

pokerThose folks who want to see your dog’s photo now? Almost always, they are after something else. You can trust them about as much as the bulldog sneaking an ace to his friend in that painting to the left there.

Pet food websites, pet toy websites, even (we hate to admit it) pet news websites will commonly beg you for a photo of your pooch — not because anyone actually wants to see it, but because they want to get you on their email lists, get you “registered,” introduce you to their products and enlist your loyalty.

They want, more than anything, your money, and like many other businesses that want your money, they will gladly deceive you and try to capitalize on your love for/pride in your pet:

“We’d love to see a photo of your dog!”

Yeah, right.

I’m not here today to say that there are too many dogs on the Internet — even if never before in the history of man have we been so saturated with dog photos and images. The more the merrier, I say.

But I would argue there is too much dog exploitation and too much dog ridicule on the Internet, much of it carried out via those “adorable” photos of your “fur baby” — sometimes by profit-making concerns, sometimes by dog owners themselves.

Compare and contrast, if you will, our old, likely unpaid, pet columnist with someone like Matt Nelson, who is making a six figure annual salary by posting photos sent in by readers, along with a comment and a numerical rating (based on the dog, not the photo) at @dog_rates.

He is not taking any photos. He is not buying any photos. He’s really not doing much work at all, other than accumulating followers. He is merely sharing other people’s photos on Twitter — and managing to make a handsome living from it.

Nelson — profiled by Money magazine recently — dropped out of college once he saw how popular his dog photo sharing Twitter page had become:

There, WeRateDogs’ operations are relatively simple. Nelson estimates he runs 95 percent of things from his iPhone (which, yes, he confirms, does require a massive data plan to handle all the dog photos). He has two remote employees: Ricci, who culls submissions down to about 20 each day, and Tyler Macke, who manages the WeRateDogs online store. His dad, an executive director of a law firm, advises him on finances.

Nelson says he brings in “a low five figures” every month. At minimum, that puts him over $100,000 a year.

Thanks, Money magazine, for doing the math for us.

While Nelson may not be doing much original or creative work, at least his pursuit is mostly cute and kind and well meaning.

20151016_181413-e1522168748576Other dog photo sharing websites are more distasteful to me — dogshaming.com, in particular.

It features photos of dogs who have misbehaved, along with hand-made signs — all submitted by readers.

But perhaps most troubling of all are the photos and videos that individuals post to their Facebook page showing their dogs doing distinctly human things.

Alexandra Horowitz, the author and researcher who has spent her career seriously studying and trying to understand dogs — despite what seems to be society’s preference to see them as dress-up dolls, movie characters with human voices, or (apologies to those who use the term) “fur babies” — made note of the phenomena in last week’s New York Times Opinion section.

In it, she asked the question:

“Why can’t I stand to look at one more photo of a ‘funny dog?'”

She continued, “In a typical image, the dog is posed in a distinctly person-like way, as if on the phone, seated at a table or wearing headphones and dressed up in human attire — glasses, a dog-size suit and tie, even pantyhose.”

” … These dogs are but furry emoji: stand ins for emotions and sentiment. Each representation diminishes this complex, impressive creature to an object of our most banal imagination,” Horowitz wrote. “Such treatment may not be mortifying to the dog, perhaps … but it is degrading to the species.”

Only the most extreme examples of making our dogs look ridiculous receive any sort of backlash — primarily from people who see the pet as being abused. Like this one on Twitter. Go to the link and read all the comments and you almost think, maybe people are coming to their senses.

It bugs me that society is this way — that it took a species, molded it to its liking, and continually foists its own likeness and peculiarities upon it. It bugs me what people will put their dog through to achieve a Facebook post or Halloween costume that makes their friends laugh. It bothers me that some people are getting rich off it.

It’s like we were blessed with an original Mona Lisa, and 85 percent of us want to draw a mustache on it slap it on their own personal billboard.

Somebody needs to grow up, and it’s not the dogs.

(Photos: At top, The Feast of Dives, about 1510–20, Master of James IV of Scotland, the J. Paul Getty Museum); lower, one of the many reproductions of Dogs Playing Poker, by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, other photos via Twitter)

Dogs of the World

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There are plenty of nits one could pick about this “Dogs of the World” map, but it’s still a pretty awesome achievement.

The artwork is an offshoot of the “Dogs of the World” series of drawings Lili Chin, a Los Angeles-based artist, produced in 2014.

It features 345 dog breeds and their countries of origin.

Since some countries are home of many more breeds than others, the map is a stylized one. France, England and Germany, for instance, are drawn far larger than scale so that the many dogs who originated in those countries could fit in.

The U.S., while pretty much to scale, includes some dogs that one would think surely originated elsewhere, like the Australian shepherds, pictured as originating in California. The Chinese Crested appears to have originated somewhere around Houston. Chesapeake Bay retrievers are shown way over in Michigan, far from the Chesapeake Bay.


“Space limitations made it impossible to dial in all breeds exact locations, Chin says on her website.

“My goal was to include non-pedigree dogs, lesser-known breeds, mixed breeds, and pariahs/landraces, while sticking with the original theme of geographical origins,” the Malaysia-born artist said. “After kicking this idea around for a couple years, I was contacted by an American jigsaw puzzle company that wished to license a ‘dogs on a map’ graphic for a new jigsaw puzzle.”

The puzzle can be purchased here.

Chin, who specializes in dog illustrations, infographics, custom portraits, and gifts for animal lovers, is selling the prints on her Etsy site. Prints on paper go for $55. Prints on canvas are $105.

Dogs as artists, dogs as art

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The idea, or so it seems, was to have dogs serve as artists — covering the canines with pet-safe paint and having them shake it off, creating Jackson Pollock type canvases in the process.

Pawsitive Ohio, a non-profit group whose mission is to end the euthanasia of dogs in Northeast Ohio shelters, was behind the effort to raise funds by auctioning off the resulting artworks at an event to be held in April.

But, at least from what has been revealed so far, it looks like the dogs — all seniors and all rescues — might have become the art, moreso than they became the artists.

Photographs of the dogs during their creative process turned out to be art in themselves, and they were recently posted on the Pawsitive Ohio website. None of the paintings the dogs created were.

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According to Cleveland.com, both the photos and the artworks will be on display at three upcoming events.

The dogs created their works in the photography studio of David Baio.

“David is a dog lover who graciously and patiently allowed our artists to create their art in his studio,” said Jennifer Harrington, director of Pawsitive Ohio. “We originally thought the canvases would be the stars of the show, but David’s photographs are incredible … the photographs alongside the canvases truly complete the collection.”

The photos show dogs dripping paint, shaking off paint and licking paint — made of corn starch and food coloring — from their snouts.

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Both the paintings and photos will be on display March 9-23 at the Massillon Museum, 121 Lincoln Way, Massillon. Then the artwork will be on display April 10-20 at the Canton Museum Of Art, 1001 Market Ave., Canton.

After that, the canvases and photography will be auctioned at the “SHAKE! Shades Of Gray” fundraising event on April 21 at the Canton Cultural Center For The Arts, 1001 Market Ave., Canton.

All funds raised will go towards Pawsitive Ohio’s mission of ending needless death of homeless dogs in Northeast Ohio. The organization raises funds for adoptions, spay and neuter programs and educational materials.

Canadian dog lover with autism created art featured on the National Dog Show program

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There’s a story behind the cover of the program for this year’s National Dog Show — one that strikes us as far more interesting than who won the annual canine beauty pageant.

(For the record though, it was Newton, a Brussels Griffon, who captured best in show at the Thanksgiving Day event, held in Philadelphia.)

The official show program this year featured a cover (above) designed by a Manitoba artist who began painting dogs as a way to cope with struggles associated with autism.

rottweilerAlec Baldwin’s parents were told when he was 2½ years old that he had mild to severe autism and likely wouldn’t be able to speak until he was 18.

They refused to accept that. When schools didn’t seem to be expecting much out of him, or doing much for him, they took him out, figuring they could do a better job themselves. But the big change came when they brought him a how-to-draw dogs book.

“He just took off,” his mother, Tanis, told CBC News

Alec drew every dog in the Canadian Kennel Club book, and then every dog in the American Kennel Club book. He used watercolour pencils and made 200 portraits of dogs that he gave to the owners of his subjects. He is a dog handler who shows at competitions and is a Special Olympics athlete going to Nova Scotia next year as part of the Manitoba team.

And, yes, at 24 now, he speaks:

It was after switching to paint that one of his pieces, a 40-by-60-inch night scene with 35 champion dogs, won best acrylic painting in the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba’s fine art show in Gimli last year.

Baldwin gave a poster of that painting to Wayne Ferguson, president of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, which runs the National Dog Show, who hung it in his den.

Ferguson then commissioned Baldwin to do a painting for the show.

The finished work shows the Philadelphia skyline at night, with 15 previous champion dogs in the foreground.

It appears on the cover of the program, the show’s VIP passes, posters and 8,000 brochures, even on the wrapper of the show’s official chocolate bar.

The painting was unveiled at a special gala for VIPs, including Baldwin and his mom.

“When I was at the show, I looked down at my VIP pass and it had his painting on it, and it dawned on me that everyone around here who was a VIP has his painting around their neck,” Tanis said.

“We’ve worked on his weaknesses and built on his strengths,” Tanis said. “That’s the best you can do with any child,” she added. “I’m really proud of him. He’s worked really hard — he’s had to work harder than anybody … But above all, he has a good heart.”

A truly commited artist — or at least one who maybe should be

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What do you say about an artist who lays naked with wolves, breastfeeds a puppy, and fertilizes one of her egg cells with a dog’s cell?

Among the words chosen by those commenting on websites describing her work are these: “Psychopath,” “Dear God, the world has gone nuts,” “Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting” and “Someone tell me this is fake news.”

Sorry, it’s not.

Artist Maja Smrekar’s four different projects, combining art with scientific research, go under the name “K-9_topology.”

They started with a fairly tame researching of the physiology of the relationship between humans and dogs. That was followed by posing naked with wolves.

Then she got weird.

smrekarfacebookThe Slovenian artist lived in seclusion for three months with her dogs as part of one.

During that time, she used systematic breast pumping to stimulate a hormone and trigger production of breast milk, and breastfed her puppy Ada to explore “the social and ideological instrumentalization of the female body and breastfeeding.”

That piece of work would go on to be exhibited as “Hybrid Family.”

Then — to explore her “reproductive freedom in a dangerously traveled multi-species world” — she took a fat cell from another dog, Byron, and used it to fertilize one of her eggs using a method similar to IVF. No true pregnancy resulted, according to RT.com.

The artist said on her website that the project grew out of the “observation of zeitgeist through the so called thanatopolitical dimension of contemporary biopolitical practices.”

Do not even ask me what that means. (A video in which the artist explains one of her projects can be found here.)

Despite the bizarre nature, Smrekar’s project has received accolades from art critics and was awarded the top prize in the Hybrid art section of the Prix Ars Electronica, one of the best known prizes in the field of electronic and interactive art.

What did they have to say about it?

“What is making this artwork so special is the total commitment of the artist,” the jury said in a statement.

That commitment, they said, was reflected by “exposing her body to hormone roller-coasters of false pregnancy and organizing the lab infrastructure to execute the complicated biotech protocol in order to create a poetic masterpiece evoking the challenges of post-humanistic dilemma.”

(The word “commitment” does come to my mind in looking at her work, but a different kind of commitment.)

“K-9_topology is a true hybrid artwork with a profound bio-political message,” the judges concluded, “and is certain to bring a lot of discussion to the audience from both the art and science sides.”

Not the words I would choose. To me, it serves as proof that, as weird as scientific research can get, as weird as art can get, combining the two can get exponentially weirder.

The story behind those Bangor bar hounds

"Bar Hounds," a mural by Constance Depler Coleman, at the New Waverly, a Bangor bar.

There’s an old school bar in Bangor, Maine, that has a dog mural on a wall that many have wondered about for decades, including the bar’s owners.

Where did the original version of it come from? They didn’t know. Why leave such a retro monstrosity on the wall? Because they love it.

The ten-foot mural features 12 dogs of various sizes and breeds, all dressed liked humans and standing around the bar. There’s a high-falutin’ cocker spaniel, a basset hound in a plaid sport coat, a professorial Boston terrier, a boxer elegantly attired in tails, and a Great Dane who appears to be hitting on the poodle on the stool next to him.

Jimmy Puiia, owner of the New Waverly, knew very little about the mural — except that he bought it at the old Sherwin-Williams on Central Street back in 1975, as a heavy piece of custom wallpaper to be installed on the wall.

That’s where it has been for 42 years, the Bangor Daily News reported last week. (The website will make non-subscribers answer a couple to get access to the story, but it’s worth the effort.)

Only three years ago did the family that owns the New Waverly — known among locals as “The Wave” — learn about the significance of their mural.

Here’s what happened:

Members of the Sohns family — many of them regulars at the New Waverly — were attending the NY Now Gift Fair in New York City in the summer of 2014, perusing the offerings of thousands of vendors, when they stumbled across what appeared to be some of those very same dogs.

“There was this giant cut out of the Great Dane (from the mural) right in the middle of the booth, and we all just kind of went ‘Holy crap! It’s the Wave dogs!,'” Amanda Sohns said.

The booth, as it turned out, was run by Amanda Coleman Voss, daughter of the original artist, Constance Depler Coleman, now 91 years old.

Depler Coleman is a pet portrait artist behind a series of works showing dogs in various human-type social setting, most of them created in the 1950s and 1960s. (But no, she’s not the artist behind the poker playing dogs.)

By the 1970s, bars across the country featured her work as part of their decor — printed on wallpaper murals. There were the Bar Hounds, the Hep Hounds, the Western Hounds and more, and they’d almost all end up the victim of upscaling and gentrification by the 2000s.

waverly022417 002.JPG“People redecorate bars. They update them,” Sohns said. “But not the Wave. It’s a time capsule.”

Sohns said she was told at the gift show that only about four of the murals remain displayed across the country.

“But there’s five, including the Wave,” she said. The Sohns family own the Rock & Art Shops in Bangor, Bar Harbor and Ellsworth.

Depler Coleman went on to more fame though, painting pet portraits for the rich and famous, including former President George W. Bush, and Oprah Winfrey.

In 2012, her daughter, Amanda Coleman Voss, started a business printing her mother’s retro art on items including glassware, posters, tote bags, and more.

The website OriginalDepler reports that Depler is still “creating, traveling, painting and enjoying cocktails with her friends.”

newwaverlyAt the New Waverly, a restaurant and bar that has been named one of the best dive bars in Maine, Puiia said the mural serves as a conversation-starter. Patrons like to decide which dog in the mural best represents their persona.

“I think people like to figure out which one they are, and which one other people are,” Puiia said. “People like to talk about it. It’s just been here for so long. It’s definitely a part of the bar.”

And, based on their recently-found knowledge, it’s even more worth preserving. “Who knew?” Jimmy Puiia, Anthony’s son, said. “Now I think we want to preserve it. Maybe put it behind plexiglass. I never knew it was so rare.”

(Photos: Bangor Daily News)