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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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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. 

Ken Done, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Ken Done, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Ken Done, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Ken Done, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.

Lucy Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Lucy Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Lucy Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Lucy Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.

Graeme Drendel, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Graeme Drendel, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Graeme Drendel, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Graeme Drendel, 2016 by Mark Mohell

Graeme Drendel

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

Nicholas Harding, 2016 Mark Mohell
Nicholas Harding, 2016 Mark Mohell
Nicholas Harding, 2016 Mark Mohell
Nicholas Harding, 2016 Mark Mohell

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. 

Fiona McMonagle, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Fiona McMonagle, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Fiona McMonagle, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Fiona McMonagle, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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. 

Darren McDonald, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Darren McDonald, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Darren McDonald, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Darren McDonald, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.

Kristin Headlam with Basil, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Kristin Headlam with Basil, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Kristin Headlam with Basil, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Kristin Headlam with Basil, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.

Noel McKenna, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Noel McKenna, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Noel McKenna, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Noel McKenna, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.

Anna Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Anna Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Anna Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Anna Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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. 

Robyn Sweaney, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Robyn Sweaney, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Robyn Sweaney, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Robyn Sweaney, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.

Shen Jiawei, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Shen Jiawei, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Shen Jiawei, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Shen Jiawei, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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. 

Jude Rae, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Jude Rae, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Jude Rae, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Jude Rae, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.

William Robinson, 2016 by Mark Mohell
William Robinson, 2016 by Mark Mohell
William Robinson, 2016 by Mark Mohell
William Robinson, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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.’

Davida Allen, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Davida Allen, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Davida Allen, 2016 by Mark Mohell
Davida Allen, 2016 by Mark Mohell

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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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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