I’ve started a new series. Portraits of Circus Dogs, let me tell you how this came about. A great source of material in my work comes from the three large boxes of photographs I inherited from my mother. The photographs range from 1888 to a few years before she died, five years ago. There are dogs all along the way. I do not have a dog now but I grew up with them, sometimes quite a few at once. When I was a kid I had no idea that other people dressed their pets up and took pictures of them.
Skippy and Hiho Silver were very compliant considering they were not familiar with getting dressed. Mom made dresses and a wooden doll stand for them in preparation of the photo shoot. She had her poses in mind and would set up the scene. Giving me orders to keep the dogs still because she’s using a 4″x5″ camera balanced on a box and some books. The next photo is Poopy, the last photo she took of her pet. There are many photos of Poopy including one as Santa Claus. My mother was a doll and Teddy bear maker.
I recently ran across an old photograph of Mexican circus dogs. When I was growing up in San Jose there were impromptu circuses in the parking lot of Sears or the Five and Ten stores. You would go in the store and come out to a woman spinning from a wire by holding on with her teeth. A man on stilts. Maybe a bearded woman and dogs wearing bright cloth collars and hats. The dogs danced, flipped backwards and could do amazing balancing acts. Have you ever met working dogs? They are eager to perform. I started researching circus dogs and found that performing dogs seemed to have existed at least as long as the camera. I was struck by the look in their eyes. I wanted the paintings to reflect the dogs sincerity. A portrait of the dog at his job.
Expanding the ideas of identity into the life of a canine gives me the opportunity to explore our relationship with the dog. My sister’s dog, Pluto, keeps a close eye on her when he’s burying his bone in the sofa. I want the portraits to reflect personality over breed. I find painting them quite complicated. I must follow the same methods as painting human faces. Following all of the nuances of light on surface. I am using a limited palette for the series of Ultramarine Blue, Sap green, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Cad yellow light, Cad Red light, Indian yellow and Alzirian Crimson. I am enjoying the series and will probably keep it to 8-10 pieces.