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Dogs Dogs Dogs

Dogs.We’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. Toronto is full of dogs. It’s a very dog-friendly city, aside from the over-salted winter sidewalks, which can be tough on paws.

William Wegman, Basic Shapes in Color, 1993. Image: dreamdogsart.com

With all the dogs comes bizarre dog owner behaviour. You see more and more people carrying their dogs around, like a living handbag, or a security blanket.  Can’t they walk?  And of course the outfits!  Some owners even dye their dogs fur.

Another image by William Wegman. Image: blog.photoshelter.com

Although no one can be sure when dogs were domesticated, there is evidence that dogs genetically diverged from their wolf ancestors at least 15,000 years ago. Ever since, they have paralleled man’s increasing sophistication–or domination of nature–and have been used in hunting, herding, protection, assisting police and military, companionship, and in aiding the handicapped.

Dogs have long been featured in painting–often in interior scenes–as symbols of fidelity. Artists from Velazquez to Titian to Matisse have featured dogs in their work.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656. Image: stir.ac.uk

William Wegman is perhaps the best known contemporary portrayer of dogs; they have featured in his videos and photographs, since the 1970s.  His photographs are distinctly surreal, highly sophisticated studies reminiscent of Iriving Penn’s fashion photographs.

His best work with dogs, though, are his wonderful videos. In Used Car Salesman, from 1972, he tries to sell the viewer a car while holding an 80-pound Weimaraner on his lap.  He then suggests that since dogs naturally resist dishonest, unkind people, surely you can trust his salesmanship.  Dogs, then come not only to represent loyalty, but to project such qualities onto their owners.

Click HERE to view some of Wegman’s short videos.

A still from Two Dogs and Ball, 1972. Image: sounds-like-me.com

Wegman manipulates his dogs, using them as a creative, if highly symbolic tool. In the photographs, they become mannequins, while the videos combine Wegman’s dry humour plus the passing of time to test the viewer’s tolerance.

One Response to “Dogs Dogs Dogs”

  1. Paul says:

    I’m a loyal reader of your blog and I wanted to send you a big THANK YOU for your post about dogs. Having stuck to my guns for 20 years choosing dogs as my subject matter, it’s rare to see the subject mentioned in writings on art …. and to boot…written in one of the best blogs about contemporary art!

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