The first thing that strikes you about the fine – and not-quite-so-fine – specimens entering tactileARTS’ The Dog Show is their striking resemblance to their real-life counterparts. Despite the eclectic assortment of ostrich feathers, rusted exhaust pipes and canvas that make up these dogs’ very particular pedigrees, the artworks themselves each cut their own channel into the very heart of human-canine relationships, drawing extensively from the artists’ time with their own pets.
The Dog Show found its origins in the work of Darwin expat, painter Jo Bruce. “My very first dog portrait was inspired by our own family dog Jezzie, a border collie,” Bruce says. “A friend saw it and asked me to paint their dog and so it has continued on.” The casual project of painting friends’ dogs has become something of an unprecedented success for Bruce, who now runs a small business in Adelaide producing commissioned portraits for dog-lovers. “The best moments are when the owners burst into tears,” she says of presenting the finished portrait, taking care to ensure each painting features a certain expression or look that captures the animal’s personality. “This has happened a few times now, and I know then that I have truly captured their beautiful animals.”
Bruce will be exhibiting a selection of her dog portraits at tactileARTS Gallery accompanied by a canine-centric assortment of fibre art by Catherine Buckley and sculptures by Sarah Body. The three women cite their 20 odd years of friendship as a secondary basis for putting on The Dog Show, a friendship more often than not embellished by someone’s faithful four-legged friend, whether it be cantankerous Spike, bubbly Beatrice, or geriatric Dudley.
“My family have owned several Jack Russells over the years,” Berry Springs-based artist Body says of the inspiration behind a family of camp dogs welded together from disused car parts, hefty suspension springs among them. “Each one of these personality-plus dogs behaved as though made of coiled springs. They were bursting at the seams with energy and derring-do. However, as often happens with the creative process, the materials that you begin to assemble choose to take you in a direction that was not originally intended. So instead of becoming Jack Russells they became camp dogs – much more fitting to their bushland origins.”
Buckley’s fibre sculptures incorporate a slightly different creative philosophy to Body’s ‘see what happens’ approach, starting with a single fixed idea that then dictates the rest of the sculpture. “It was all about the tails,” Buckley reveals. “My dogs are very proud of their tails, even if they are horse hair,” she says, adding that the other materials used for the crucial appendage include strands of rope and clumps of grass.
“I am surprised how easy it has been to become attached to the various dogs,” Buckley says. “As it is with the living versions but my sculptures are so much less trouble.”
The Dog Show opens at 6pm, on Thurs 26 July at tactileARTS Gallery (formerly Territory Craft). The exhibition runs until 12 August.