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The artists and their furry friends

Sarah Engledow and Acorn, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Sarah Engledow and Acorn, 2016 by Mark Mohell

They say there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I asked a nice bounty hunter if there really is, and he said yes, especially these days, with new technology. All I can assert with authority is that there’s more than one way to paint a cat.

In recent works of art, animals have often appeared as slightly menacing characters, playing shadowy parts in indeterminate scenes. Happily, meanwhile, leading painters keep expressing the gaiety and cosiness that many of us share with our animal companions, and celebrating their trusting, unpretentious souls.

Lately, the fifteen Australian artists whose work appears in this exhibition have painted people and their animal friends very differently. The range is no surprise: the artists’ own stories are very various, including not just how, but why they make art, how it challenges them, and what they get out of it.

As a big fan of the internet, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of animal snaps, but I can’t say I’ve learned much from looking at them. By contrast, the painted, sculpted and drawn pet animals in this exhibition make congenial guides to random, basic ideas about art. Some artists go at their subjects in fervour and some labour over individual hairs. For me, even comparing how much blank space different artists leave around a dog or a bird is interesting. Led by the pictures, I’ve sniffed along meandering paths online, and all through this exhibition their traces remain. 

This exhibition's for the much-loved artists and their companions: Earl, Billy, Basil, Molly, Monte, Spot, Seal, Flora, Stimpy, Rupert, Tilly, Melman, Naughtie, Miku, Rosie, Wendy Wu, Ju Ju, Emitt, Pippie and Billie.

It’s also for people who don’t know much about art, but know what they like: animals. 

Spot, 2016 by Ken Done
Spot, 2016 by Ken Done
Spot, 2016 by Ken Done
Spot, 2016 by Ken Done

Ken Done

With a mum who was married to a tradie, you’d think it a fair chance that the baby Jesus would have grown up with a dog in the house.

Emitt sitting, 2001 by Lucy Culliton
Emitt sitting, 2001 by Lucy Culliton
Emitt sitting, 2001 by Lucy Culliton
Emitt sitting, 2001 by Lucy Culliton

Lucy Culliton

Most well-regarded pictures of chickens show them dead. A reliable way to tell if a chicken in a painting is dead is to check if it’s hanging upside down, because unlike, say, cockatoos, chickens don’t practise inversion for enjoyment in life.

Cadet with rabbit, 2009 by Graeme Drendel
Cadet with rabbit, 2009 by Graeme Drendel
Cadet with rabbit, 2009 by Graeme Drendel
Cadet with rabbit, 2009 by Graeme Drendel

Graeme Drendel

I like talking about Drendel’s pictures as if they expressed dreams of my own.

Beach life (dog), 2006 by Nicholas Harding
Beach life (dog), 2006 by Nicholas Harding
Beach life (dog), 2006 by Nicholas Harding
Beach life (dog), 2006 by Nicholas Harding

Nicholas Harding

Over the years the young Nicholas Harding got his hands on various mice and guinea pigs, but they served mainly to illustrate the concept of mortality. 

Night Owl, 2013 by Fiona McMonagle
Private Collection, NSW
Night Owl, 2013 by Fiona McMonagle
Private Collection, NSW
Night Owl, 2013 by Fiona McMonagle
Private Collection, NSW
Night Owl, 2013 by Fiona McMonagle
Private Collection, NSW

Fiona McMonagle

Fiona aims to create a dangerous situation with a flood of water on the paper, forcing each work to the point where it can fail, and then rescuing it. 

Scone, 2010 by Darren McDonald
Private collection, Melbourne and courtesy of Scott Livesey Galleries
Scone, 2010 by Darren McDonald
Private collection, Melbourne and courtesy of Scott Livesey Galleries
Scone, 2010 by Darren McDonald
Private collection, Melbourne and courtesy of Scott Livesey Galleries
Scone, 2010 by Darren McDonald
Private collection, Melbourne and courtesy of Scott Livesey Galleries

Darren McDonald

The wild balancing act of McDonald’s home décor (is that there as a joke? where do I actually sit down? is this ironic or what? what a lovely photo of Darren and Robin in Europe!) is reflected in his own personality.

Basil steps out, 2016 by Kristin Headlam
Courtesy the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery
Basil steps out, 2016 by Kristin Headlam
Courtesy the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery
Basil steps out, 2016 by Kristin Headlam
Courtesy the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery
Basil steps out, 2016 by Kristin Headlam
Courtesy the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery

Kristin Headlam

Basil grew into a speckled beauty – a long-legged leaper and an exceptionally vocal dog, with a great register of sounds, ascending in shock value from a whimper to a growl to a bark to a yelp that’s a violation of the ears.

Untitled (Chihuahua), 2001 by Noel McKenna
Private collection, Melbourne
Untitled (Chihuahua), 2001 by Noel McKenna
Private collection, Melbourne
Untitled (Chihuahua), 2001 by Noel McKenna
Private collection, Melbourne
Untitled (Chihuahua), 2001 by Noel McKenna
Private collection, Melbourne

Noel McKenna

It’s a matter beyond dispute that in the entire history of Australian art, it’s Noel McKenna who’s painted the liveliest rendition of the head of a Chihuahua.

Jack With Flossy, 2016 by Anna Culliton
Jack With Flossy, 2016 by Anna Culliton
Jack With Flossy, 2016 by Anna Culliton
Jack With Flossy, 2016 by Anna Culliton

Anna Culliton

Anna Culliton never had a colouring-in book when she was little. Her parents –Tony, a filmmaker, and Stephanie, a painter – wouldn’t let her have one. Instead, they insisted on her drawing her own pictures to colour-in. 

Zed, from the series Walking the dog, 2005 by Robyn Sweaney
Zed, from the series Walking the dog, 2005 by Robyn Sweaney
Zed, from the series Walking the dog, 2005 by Robyn Sweaney
Zed, from the series Walking the dog, 2005 by Robyn Sweaney

Robyn Sweaney

Robyn's parents had two terriers, Wuff and Snuff. In spite of Snuff’s ominous name and a couple of close shaves – once, he jumped out of a moving car, and another time, on a long road trip, he was accidentally left behind at a petrol station – he outlived Wuff.

Xini and Billy, 2006 by Jiawei Shen
Xini and Billy, 2006 by Jiawei Shen
Xini and Billy, 2006 by Jiawei Shen
Xini and Billy, 2006 by Jiawei Shen

Shen Jiawei

Shen Jiawei was born in China. During the Cultural Revolution he laboured in the Great Northern Wilderness, but even as he worked there, he gained recognition as an artist. 

Self Portrait (the year my husband left), 2008 by Jude Rae
Self Portrait (the year my husband left), 2008 by Jude Rae
Self Portrait (the year my husband left), 2008 by Jude Rae
Self Portrait (the year my husband left), 2008 by Jude Rae

Jude Rae

Jude Rae’s high reputation rests on her austere, cerebral still lifes of gas canisters, electric jugs and jars, which she groups and rearranges for paintings that catch their difficult curves and reflections. Her self-portrait’s likewise thoughtfully composed.

Self portrait with pug, 2009 by William Robinson
QUT Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by William Robinson, 2015
Self portrait with pug, 2009 by William Robinson
QUT Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by William Robinson, 2015
Self portrait with pug, 2009 by William Robinson
QUT Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by William Robinson, 2015
Self portrait with pug, 2009 by William Robinson
QUT Art Collection
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by William Robinson, 2015

William Robinson

Unique in the world, perhaps, is a bronze sculpture that fuses the age-old human portrait bronze tradition, and the later genre of the bronze pug figurine: that’d be William Robinson’s Self-portrait with pug.

Janet Dawson, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Janet Dawson, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Janet Dawson, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Janet Dawson, 2016 by Mark Mohell

Janet Dawson

When soulmates Janet Dawson and Michael Boddy moved from Sydney to a property, Boddy was clear about why: ‘Our marriage is one long conversation - we moved to the bush so we could talk to each other without so many interruptions.’

Kangaroos, 2007 by Davida Allen
Kangaroos, 2007 by Davida Allen
Kangaroos, 2007 by Davida Allen
Kangaroos, 2007 by Davida Allen

Davida Allen

Going around a gallery with a child, we point to a painting of a dog and brightly ask ‘What’s that?’ If they don’t say ‘A dog’, we tell them that’s what it is. We don’t say it’s a shape inscribed by an artist that’s popularly understood to signify a dog. That’d only serve to foster a smarty-pants.

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