Copyright 2006 Melanie Light
Although contemporary art has moved beyond the Pop art of yesteryear, the most influential artists of the latter twentieth century have taken bold steps to include dog art as a central theme in their artistic endeavors. David Hockney, William Wegman, and George Rodrique, all still alive today, have not arbitrarily juxtaposed canines in their works but have put their furry friends on center stage – to soak up the limelight, offering the art world new glimpse of man’s best friend.
David Hockney (1937), who was born in Bradford England, spent the better half of his life in Los Angeles, California. Believed to be one of the forerunners of Pop art of the 1960s, with works such as We two Boys Together Clinging (1961) and A Bigger Splash (1967), his work influenced thousands of artists worldwide.
At the age of eleven, Hockney knew that he wanted to be an artist. No one is certain if he had any inspiration to include animals, specifically dogs, in his works, but it is known that he was willing to experiment beyond regular artistic parameters even when he arrived to the Royal College of Art in London in 1959. Hockney recollects that “the adventurous, lively students, the brightest ones,” were dousing themselves in “Abstract Expressionist paintings on hardboard.”(1)
Obviously etched in Hockney’s mind was that art could be something different, especially if it was unconventional. In his later works, we see Hockney’s two Dachshunds, Stanley and Boodgie, in a string of paintings and drawings. “The dogs are my little friends,” he says in an interview with Richard Natale in 1998 about his new book, David Hockney’s Dog Days. “It was probably my wanting a tender, loving subject.” Hockney goes on to rebuttal the art world that may not accept dog art stating, “I make no apologies for the apparent subject matter. These two dear little creatures are my friends. They are intelligent, loving, comical, and often bored. They watch me work; I notice the warm shapes they make together, their sadness and their delights.”(2)
Unlike Hockney who began dabbling in dog art later in his career, William Wegman has been daunting and confronting the parameters of mainstream art for years with his depictions of Weimaraners in artistic venues. Noted for his peculiar depictions that can border outlandish humor, Wegman has been known to be just too ‘dog-on’ funny.
After earning an MFA from the University of Illinois, Wegman taught for a while; he searched for a way to make his art ‘unleash’ his creativity on the public. While experimenting with photography and video, Wegman purposely took the remnants of Pop art to a level that mirrored and even mocked Americana.
His first Weimaraner was named Man Ray and was used in Wegman’s work in both video and photography. Man Ray was so famous that the Village Voice named him “Man of the Year” in 1982.(3) With the use of a massive Polaroid camera, Wegman took varied photographs of his Weimaraner in an array of poses and assorted guises. Later, Wegman’s second Weimaraner named Fay Ray appeared on Sesame Street as Old McFay. Wegman himself has appeared on-air with Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and on Saturday Night Live.
Similar to both David Hockney and William Wegman, George Rodrigue used dog art to exemplify his feelings about man’s truest comrade. As Wegman used his own Weimaraners in his creations, so did Rodrique use the muse provided by his childhood companion named Tiffany – who was transformed into the famed Blue Dog.
George Rodrigue, born and raised in Louisiana, began painting Blue Dog in tribute to his black and white terrier after her death in 1980. As it happened, Blue Dog eerily represented the Loup-Garou, or a Cajun werewolf in many of Rodrigue’s depictions.(4) Blue Dog soon gained international recognition as an inveterate legend, especially in the earlier 1990s.
Working as a graphic artist, Rodrigue explored the use of silk-screen with Blue Dog, which allowed the image to appear crisp, clean, and stark. Both famous public figures and private art collectors have purchased Rodrigue’s works. Absolut Vodka and Xerox even commissioned the artist to do ad campaigns. In the book entitled Blue Dog (Viking/Penguin 1994), Rodrigue depicts the change of Tiffany into this relished pop icon.
David Hockney, William Wegman, and George Rodrigue have all used dogs as a focal point, which shows that dog art is a powerful medium of expression that not only captures the art world, but mainstream art lovers as well. Through the Pop movement of the 1960s and contemporary art circles worldwide, these artists have used their pets as heartfelt muses that captivate and bring wonder even to the most stringent of critics.
(1)http://www.artchive.com/artchive/H/hockney.html (2)http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1589/is_n760/ai_20620446 (3)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wegman_%28photographer%29 (4)http://www.art4now.com/biogr.htm
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