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Tag: artist

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)

Alt-right better watch where they step

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(Update: Patriot Prayer canceled its planned rally at Crissy Field, and plans to proceed with a press conference in a different location today. Leader Joey Gibson said, “After several conversations with the police, and understanding the situation, we’ve decided that tomorrow really feels like a set-up … We’re not going to fall into that trap.” Instead, the group plans to hold a press conference today at Alamo Square.)

It started as a joke, and then picked up steam, becoming a fully formed Facebook event — a peaceful (and poopful) plot to disrupt a far-right “Freedom Rally” from a safe distance.

Those participating plan to go to San Francisco’s Crissy Field — the public park where the far-right rally will take place — and place some land mines, with a little help from their dogs.

The organizers encouraged people to bring their dogs to the park beforehand to “leave a gift for our Alt-Right friends … Take your dog to Crissy Field and let them do their business and be sure not to clean it up!”

The hosts of the event have promised to clean it all up after the rally.

The “Freedom Rally” near the Golden Gate Bridge is sponsored by a group called “Patriot Prayer,” which many local officials say is a front for white supremacists, Nazis and other extremists.

Politicians and public officials in the Bay Area are denouncing the rally and say the National Park Service should not have issued the group a permit.

According to the Washington Post, the rally is one of several protests and counter-protests planned around San Francisco Saturday afternoon.

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi described the rally as “white supremacist,” saying she had “grave concerns about the public safety hazard”
it could create.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee characterized the events as “hate-filled extremist rallies” and said the participants’ “only priority is to incite violence through divisive rhetoric.”

As for the organization, Patriot Prayer, it is led by an Oregon activist named Joey Gibson, who is Japanese American. The group has previously organized rallies in the Portland area that escalated to violence.

Gibson, on Facebook, says his group is not white supremacist or neo-Nazi. In a Facebook event posting for Saturday’s rally, he said, “No extremists will be allowed in. No Nazis, Communist, KKK, Antifa, white supremacist, I.E., or white nationalists. This is an opportunity for moderate Americans to come in with opposing views. We will not allow the extremists to tear apart this country.”

We’re not sure how — at least until a walk-through extremist detector is invented — that can be achieved. Gibson said those attending the rally will be a diverse group whose members believe in freedom.

tuffington2Like many local leaders, a San Francisco artist who calls himself Tuffy Tuffington doesn’t believe that. It was while walking his dogs at Crissy Field that he came up with the idea of a peaceful way to protest and disrupt the rally.

“My dogs were doing their business, Tuffington, 45, told the Post, “and I was struck with the image of a bunch of alt-right folks stomping around in a field of poop.”

It’s the kind of symbolic image — jackboots landing in dog poop — that any artist would love, not to mention writers of headlines, like this one in The Guardian: “Turd Reich: San Francisco dog owners lay minefield of poo for rightwing rally.”

Tuffington posted the call for dog poop last week and has heard back from 980 people who say they will participate and 5,300 more who say they are interested.

poopmapSome said they plan to collect their dogs’ output for several days and bring it to the park.

As you might expect, his plot is being criticized as well — mainly by those who see it as defiling a much-loved park, and environmentally harming they bayside.

Patriot Prayer’s Gibson says the rally’s participants aren’t going to be deterred by a little dog poop, or even a lot of dog poop.

“I don’t think someone is going to step on a pile of dog poop and be like ‘I’m convinced, I shouldn’t be here, I need to change my ideology,'” he told NBC Bay Area.

Tuffington says he plans to stay safely away from the park Saturday, at least until night falls and the rally is over.

Then, he says, the scooping will begin.

(Top photo of Crissy Park by Eric Risberg/AP; photo of Tuffy Tuffington provided by Tuffy Tuffington, graphic from the Facebook page of Tuffy Tuffington)

After flunking out as a service dog, a black Lab named Dagger turns to an art career

Having a gallery opening and appearing on the “The Rachael Ray Show” show in the same week would be quite the accomplishment for any artist.

But this one has only been painting a year.

And he has no hands.

Dagger II burst onto the art scene in March, when Newsday published a story about the paint brush- wielding, three-year-old black Labrador.

dogvinciYesterday, in light of his growing fame, there was a follow-up story in Newsday recounting his recent achievements.

Dagger II and his human, artist Yvonne Dagger, met Rachael Ray last month and demonstrated the dog’s skills. Dagger II, wearing his trademark red beret, was said to have hit it off especially well with Ray’s co-host for the day, Regis Philbin. The episode airs Friday.

Friday also marks the gallery debut of Dagger II — also known as DogVinci. His works will be on display at Long Island Picture Frame and Art Gallery in Massapequa Park.

Dagger II and his owner have partnered with that business to sell both original works and limited edition prints of his creations.

Ten percent of proceeds will go to Forgotten Friends of Long Island, a Plainview-based animal rescue and rehabilitation group.

Yvonne Dagger adopted Dagger II after he flunked out of service dog training. It was discovered he had a fear of going up and down stairs.

After laying at her feet as she painted, he attempted his own foray into the art world.

sunny-day-1-lLast Summer, Yvonne Dagger said, the dog who had always quietly watched as she painted began nudging her. She asked him if he wanted to paint and he began wagging his tail. She set up an easel for him, made a brush handle out of a paper towel tube and duct tape, and taught him some commands.

Yvonne helps him load the brush with non-toxic paints.

“Brush,” she tells Dagger to get him to take the makeshift brush in his mouth. “Paint,” she says to get him to apply brush to canvas.

His original paintings are selling for up to $325.

You can learn more about Dagger II, and view more of his works, at his website, DogVinci.com.

(Photos: DogVinci.com)

Is artwork an attack on pit bulls?

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Whether it’s art, propaganda, or a combination of the two, a memorial to victims of fatal dog attacks is creating controversy as one of dozens of entries in a public art display in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The work  is called “Out of the Blue,” a reference to how dog attacks — and particularly pit bull attacks, the artist repeatedly points out — usually happen.

outofblue2The display, created by a woman identifying herself as Joan Marie Kowal, consists of more than 30 decorated crosses, representing the number of people killed in dog attacks this year, and images of the victims, many of them children.

The artwork is rubbing some dog lovers, and particularly pit bull lovers, the wrong way, which has led to some demonstrations and the kind of heated, everybody’s an expert debate that follows pit bulls around wherever they go.

Joan Marie Kowal, we suspect, has more experience in badmouthing pit bulls than she does in creating art, but then again artists don’t need credentials in this competition.

Every year, for 19 days, three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids is opened up to artists in ArtPrize, a competition that awards $200,000 to the grand prize winner.

Downtown becomes “an open playing field where anyone can find a voice in the conversation about what is art and why it matters,” according to the  ArtPrize  website. “Art from around the world pops up in every inch of downtown … It’s unorthodox, highly disruptive, and undeniably intriguing to the art world and the public alike.”

This year, “Out of the Blue” has proved among the most disruptive.

A week ago, perturbed pit bull owners brought their dogs to Calder Plaza, where the entry is displayed, in hopes of presenting their views and showing that pit bulls — the breed most often mentioned in the memorial — aren’t vicious killing machines.

When they sat down in front of the memorial, Kowal complained they were obstructing the public’s view.

Kowal told MLIVE.com in an email that “visitors can’t even see the art and many have told me the bully breed owners, sitting on the ledges blocking the view of the victims’ biographies and refusing to move, makes them unable to enjoy the piece.”

Grand Rapids Police Lt. Pat Dean said Kowal filed a complaint in late September about people sitting with pit bulls on the stone wall in front of her ArtPrize entry. Police found nothing illegal at that time, he said, and members of the group, while on public property, moved at the request of officers.

Kowal describes the work as “an opportunity to Pay it Forward, and show the good side of humanity. Visitors are encouraged to express their sympathy, respect, and support for the victims and their families by leaving teddy bears, flowers, or memorial decorations in the designated heart-shaped memorial space.”

According to a brief biography listed on the ArtPrize website,  Kowal is an animal lover, who has feral cats and pet squirrels. She attended Grand Valley State University.

Not a whole lot can be learned about her through searching her name on the Internet, and there’s no mention of any previous artistic pursuits.

There was a 2011 MLIVE.com article that mentioned her name, and quoted her as being a supporter of a proposed pit bull ban in Wyoming, Michigan.

Perhaps she became an artist “out of the blue.” Perhaps her anti-pit bull passion needed an outlet.

We support the right for just about anyone to call themselves an artist, assuming they are making some form of art. We don’t have a problem with Kowal expressing herself — either vocally or through her “art” — on the streets of Grand Rapids. By the same token, we have no problem with pit bull owners and their dogs sitting down squarely in front of it, as long as it’s public property. They have the right to express themselves in public, too, whether they’re ArtPrize contestants or not.

So do we. And our opinion is Kowal is pushing her personal agenda under the guise of a non-profit organization’s art competition, and that it’s likely part of a well-plotted effort by those forces intent on painting all members of the breed with the same brush, reinforcing negative stereotypes while playing fast and loose with the facts.

Kowal says she plans to add three more crosses this weekend in remembrance of three other people who died from injuries she says were caused by pit bull attacks.

“That is not my fault that they were all killed by pit bulls,” she said. “I’m just showing the facts.”

Artist and her dog wear each other’s hair

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No surgical procedures were involved — thank God — but Japanese artist Aki Inomata and her dog, Cielo, have exchanged hair.

As an artistic exploration into the relationship between pets and their owners, Inomata has made a coat out of her own hair for her dog to wear, and a cape out of her dog’s hair, which she can be seen modeling above.

hairexchange2It took several years of gathering the locks of herself and her dog, followed by much weaving, to assemble the hair and fur into wearable items.

An art installation that displays both coats, and a video of the process, is entitled, aptly enough, “I Wear the Dog’s Hair, and the Dog Wears My Hair.”

The coat exchange was an exercise in empathy, Inomata says.

“I have had various pets, and do so now as well,” Inomata is quoted as saying in an article on DesignBoom.

“I believe that all people who have pets wonder at some point whether their pet is happy, and I face the dilemma of whether it is right to make a living creature into a pet. Within this context, I have had these animals appear in my artwork.

“My works take as their starting point things that I have felt within everyday experiences, and transplant the structure of these experiences analogically to the modes of life of the animals. The concept of my works is to get people to perceive the modes of life of various living creatures by experiencing a kind of empathy towards them.”

From homeless heroin addict to popular artist, with help from a dog named George

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A formerly homeless man who once sold his sketches for pocket change on the streets of London’s now sells them for thousands of dollars at exhibits — and credits his dog for turning his life around.

Up until a few years ago, John Dolan, 43, had been a heroin addict whose life had seen more than 300 criminal convictions, 30 stints in prison and long stretches of homelessness.

He was living on the streets when he took in George. The young Staffordshire bull terrier had been living with another homeless couple who had had acquired him in exchange for a can of beer. They’d found housing, but not dog-friendly housing, and George needed a home.

Dolan, who hadn’t exactly been living a life of responsibility, was worried about whether he was up to having a dog.

“How was I going to cope with him? I couldn’t even cope with myself,” he told the Guardian.

georgeBut George, he noticed, had a way of looking him in the eye when he talked, and the two quickly bonded. Dolan says it was the fear of losing George if he went to prison again that led him to give up crime.

“He’s like my child in a sense and I feel obliged to keep a roof over his head and keep him warm,” he said.

Of course, George was helping Dolan out in other ways, too. Dolan made more money panhandling when George was at his side. Still, Dolan says, he felt embarassed by begging.

“Sitting there holding out my hand was so embarrassing, so degrading. I didn’t like to look at people as they went past. I picked up the pen mainly so I could bury my head in a drawing pad.”

He started drawing the buildings, and drawing George, and, sitting with his dog on the sidewalk, he would sell the drawings for whatever he could get.

Then he was discovered. First he was commissioned to do some drawings for a book. Then a gallery director, Richard Howard-Griffin, asked if he would draw some large streetscapes for him.

dolanbookLast fall he had his first exhibit. His second is now underway at the Howard Griffin Gallery in London, with proceeds being donated to The Big Issue Foundation and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. 

Another exhibit, in Los Angeles, is in the works. And Dolan has published a book, “John and George: The Dog Who Changed My Life.”

Dolan has a home now, but  still sits on the street and draws, with George.

“I feel like he’s a guardian angel. If it hadn’t been for him I’d have never picked up my pen.”

(Top pPhoto: David Levene / the Guardian)