This week’s Weekly has my review of My Dog Speaks. Below is my copy with some pictures.
Through the years artists have devoted gallons of paint and tons of plaster, clay and metal to the depiction of animals — beloved cats and dogs and heroic wild beasts. If an animal-loving artist makes a self-portrait, chances are a beloved pet will appear in the work. “My Dog Speaks” at Seraphin Gallery is a 13-artist group hug of the beasts of the earth.
Animals in art are metaphorical stand-ins for things like innocence, strength and freedom. Nowadays wild animals in art mostly refer to species endangerment. Darla Jackson’s sculptural baby deer, small and quietly sleeping on a white pedestal, is mythological, like the unicorn, only far more vulnerable.
Bonnie Brenda Scott’s paintings on hunters’ target practice sheets are subversions of the hunt. The artist covers the sheets with images of ghost animals, crystals, clouds, and words like “please” and “trouble.” Scott has painted a mural of writhing ghost animals on the wall around these target paintings and the effect is shamanistic—as if the artist is attempting to dispel evil spirits. The mural is a powerful work in a quiet show—weird for its colors (pink and orange) and for its evocation of smoke, viscera and tortured souls.
Sometimes, though, a pet portrait is just that—a picture of a dearly beloved companion. Sarah McEneaney’s “Dog Heaven” imagines the best, greenest dog park ever for her beloved dead pets and those of her friends, all lovingly depicted at play in the park. Likewise, Laura McKinley’s “Shilly-Shally” is a straightforward portrait of a serious young woman in a black and white striped shirt holding up two almost identical black and white cats. A deadpan family portrait perhaps, the work is a contemporary update on early American portraits by Ammi Phillips who loved to show children and animals in her work.
Alina Josan and Amanda Miller’s collaborative altar pieces are lovely and spiritual in their leanings. Caitlin Emma Perkins’ drawing of a singing mouse and Anne Canfield’s drawing of cats steering a gondola are both picture-book perfect evocations of imaginary animal friends.
Russian conceptual artists Komar and Melamid surveyed the American people in 1995 and found that “America’s Most Wanted” painting is a sublime landscape with humans and gentle wild animals in peaceful concourse. The peaceable kingdom is still a goal and it’s here in this sweet show.
My Dog Speaks. Through June 9. Seraphin Gallery, 1108 Pine St. 215.923.7000.