Man and Dog
19th May to 9th June 2103
Paintings: Tom Barrett, Robert Organ, Robin Rae
Ceramics: Prue Cooper, Clementina van der Walt
The friendship of three regional artists, and their love for man’s best friend – was the inspiration for an exhibition entitled ‘Man and Dog’, which ran at The Art Room Topsham. Tom Barrett, Robert Organ and Robin Rae created a wonderfully diverse range of paintings around the subject, using their relationship with their own dogs as their focus.
Additionally, the theme of Man and Dog is taken up by two ceramicists from outside the region, who have surreptitiously crept into the exhibition to represent the distaff side. The introduction of ceramic art was a relatively new venture for the Art Room, and in this instance it provides a witty foil to the paintings.
For thousands of years artists have portrayed dogs: as mythological beings, hunting companions, prized possessions, and symbols of fidelity. Think of Van Eyck’s ‘Arnolfini Marriage’ in the National Gallery, with the enthusiastic little terrier in the foreground consolidating the union. In the modern world, we treasure our dogs and the tail wagging devotion they show when they greet us. But most important of all, they seem to bestow upon us a promise of never ending love.
Our first love affair with the animal world was equine. Early Etruscan art does not depict men, but horses are everywhere. They gallop round friezes, decorate vases, are ridden to glory and generally dominate the world of visual art, until the sixteenth century, when our canine friend crept into art.
By the end of the eighteenth century, George Stubbs had revolutionised the painted treatment of animals, Dogs were increasingly shown affectionately, as worthy individuals of great character. Some artists, such as Sir Edwin Landseer, went over the top, and were guilty of almost oppressive sentimentality, showing heroic canines rescuing damsels in distress.
But it is ultimately Queen Victoria who is responsible for us being known as a nation of dog-lovers. She introduced her pets to her subjects, who happily followed suit – and who can separate our current monarch from her corgis? We have been hosts to Crufts, the world’s greatest dog show, since Victoria’s reign.
Each of the artists involved in the exhibition of ‘Man and Dog’ shows a very different approach, with none of them even beginning to teeter into that dangerous area of kitsch that is so familiar in popular cards and calendars. There is a wonderful understanding of ‘dogginess’.
Tom Barratt’s ‘Dog in the Grass’ showers us with droplets of water as he shakes his coat to create a pointillist rainbow of colour to dazzle us. Robert Organ’s’ Truffle Hounds’, tense with specialist skills, help their handler to unearth treasure beneath their feet. The viewer senses the way both man and dog are intent on their collaborative search; they are united in work. Robin Rae’s images are poignant commentaries on the mutual love between man and dog. His ‘Dog in a Drawer’ is painted with the high seriousness of an old master, as the dog contemplates a jug on a table from the safe haven of a drawer.
Meanwhile, Clementina van der Walt’s narrative dish, shows a strange figure jauntily being led by a black and grey dog, through a landscape of exotic creatures, who seem about to hop on and off the dish. Prue Cooper with beautiful clarity and humour draws a modern Discobolus, about to throw a stick for his dog.
An exhibition such as this, with such tenderness and humour, would not have been possible in Victoria’s day. There was not a single show dog in sight.
– Maggie Giraud 2013