Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some of the Nicest People I Know Are Dogs

I love dogs. I love dogs and I have three of them. And while they sometimes drive me crazy, usually I find them charming and entertaining. Happy, optimistic, and easy going almost to a fault, they truly make the best companions.

Cocker Head Study- 8x10 charcoal/white chalk on gray paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

Pretty much anything you would like to do is ok with a dog: You're going to the store? Hey, can I ride in the car? You want to get the mail? No problem, I'd love to go for a walk. Roast chicken for supper? Great! I'll just sit here beside you, you know, in case something falls on the floor and that way you won't have to clean it up!

Just as my love of horses and my need to create often converge, so too does my artwork with my fondness for dogs. From time to time I get asked to paint a portrait of a family pet, usually a dog. Painting an animal portrait, just like painting a human portrait, is a tricky business. The most obvious problem is the question of getting a "likeness" - making the animal look the way it actually does. Photos supply most of the information required, but it is nice to actually be able to meet the animal, to see it move and to touch it. Dogs, like people, have character, and catching that individuality, that spark of life, or soul, is the hardest thing in painting any portrait. A painting can be accurate in representation and still fail to capture the "essence" of the subject. The result is a dead looking painting. Unfortunately, I've painted my fair share of those.

Once in a while though, I do get it right. I remember one particular case where I was commissioned to paint the portrait of a dog. The dog had recently died and I was given a stack of family photos to use as reference material. The owners told me a bit about the dog's personality, the things he would do, how he behaved, and even how he had died. They then left me with my task.
I wasn't sure how much success I was going to have: I hadn't even met the dog! Nevertheless, the portrait was painted and when I had finished it, I invited the dog's owners back to studio to see and assess the results- I was expecting to do a lot of touch ups. I had set the painting up so that it was the first thing they would see when the walked in. They were surprised to the point of silence, and then openly wept. Somehow, and I'm not sure how, I had painted their dog.

What's on the easel

One of the projects I'm working on in the studio right now is a commissioned portrait of a cocker spaniel. This dog, thankfully, is very much alive and I was able to take the photos myself, so I had the pleasure of meeting him. He's quite a guy: funny and goofy and full of mischief. The owner came here this morning to decide on the final pose for the painting from the three preparatory drawings which I have just finished.

She has opted for the pose directly below, as she wanted a full body pose, but she loved the head study above so much that, as a kindness, I offered it to her as a gift. Happy owner, happy artist. Now I just have to do the painting!
Cocker portrait study-8x10, charcoal on paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

Cocker portrait study 2- 8x10, pencil on paper ©2009 Alyson Champ

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sought and Found

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of taking a little trip across the Ontario border to visit The Arbor Gallery in the town of Vankleek Hill. The occasion was the vernissage for "Seek to Find", the solo art exhibition of my long time friend and fellow artist Erica Taylor.


Erica and I met when I was about eleven and she was twelve, and she demonstrated to me her ability to whinny like a horse. Not only could Erica whinny, but she could whinny so convincingly that horses would answer her. In my horse crazy eleven-year-old's mind, that was a truly awe-inspiring talent. That gift of equine communication, along with our mutual love of art, cross-country skiing and all things horses, formed the foundation of a friendship which has, to date, endured for thirty years.

Erica's work could not be more different from my own, which no doubt is the reason I find it so delightful and interesting. She is an artist who works in a variety of media, from fairly traditional oil painting and printmaking all the way to wild and whimsical found object sculpture.
Ironwood Tree ©2009 Erica Taylor
I have often wished I had the courage to just let my imagination run wild the way that Erica does. She can look at a box of metal odds and ends, a pile of old barn wood, pieces of an old pipe organ and see the artistic possibilities.Out of that process of creative imagining, Erica makes works of art which are beautiful, sometimes funny and often quite provocative.
Attempt to Quantify ©2009 Erica Taylor
Whether it is seen in representations of the archetypal feminine, childbirth, or the exploration of the common girlhood fantasy of escaping on the back of a horse, the female experience is a thread that runs through all of Erica's work. Attempt to Quantify (seen above) grew from experiments Erica made striking a wooden plank with antique metal number stamps. She describes the work as the linear, scientific masculine attempting to define the vague and mysterious feminine. Indeed, to me, it looks a lot like sperm surrounding an ovum. It may have begun as unconscious experimentation, but Attempt to Quantify developed into a thought provoking piece of art.
Oil painting Primeval Race, found object sculpture Queen ©2009 Erica Taylor