Artists and their Pets
( This blog is dedicated to dear Sampson, a lion among domestic Main coons d. june 6, 2015 )
I am just back from another nostalgic trip home to my birthplace of Winnipeg. There I said yet another bittersweet and likely final farewell to Dusty, my sisters' husky dog of a remarkable 16 yrs old. She is a dear and dainty dog for such a tough breed; long, elegant and lean just like her other family members, including my uber tall nephews.
Throughout history we have immortalized the life and times of an era through artwork, often depicting domestic life including the beasts of prey and also companionship. Dogs and cats, sometimes, even lions, chickens, cattle, donkeys and ducks, snakes and birds of the day, immortalized for all eternity. Wolves, Bulls and Buffaloes documented in Paleolithic cave paintings; lions and bulls in Roman and Greek frescoes and sculpture; sphinx' in ancient Egyptian art. Distorted animal interpretations by Bosch in the 1500's are endlessly fascinating and later plenty of fish, fowl, domestic cats and dogs appear in the Dutch paintings of Vermeer and Rembrandt to name just a very few--- continuing on through the centuries with their own narratives.
Often used for symbolic and sometimes mythical purposes in art, animals also cast a snap shot of the historical relevance they played in daily life.
More then even wondering about the portraits of our ancestors...I am always endlessly curious about the animals in paintings beside them-- their connections to the individual being painted, the artist capturing the moment, how were they treated , their value in the day; often seen more practically for mousing, or hunting and historically often for protection rather than companionship...
How far we have come, where pets are at near worshipped status again as cats were in the Egyptian sphinx era.
Pets connect us to the natural world. And our more natural selves. Their sentient presence in our life serves as a portal to a deeper emotional world we sadly seldom venture into; often navigating the world with our well worn armour instead. In our fast paced, concrete and technical life we need our furry friends more and more to stay human, tactile and senuous.
Picasso had cats; Matisse, Klimt, O'keefe, and Warhol did too. Rodolphe de Salis has immortalized 'le chat noir' with his iconic poster.
Artists are often loners and require long weird studio hours and jolts of antisocial behaviour making animals a worthy, adaptable option to human company. Gaguin fled his hum drum banking life to Tahiti perhaps in part for all the exotic birds and flowers, where as I imagine Van Gogh must of communed with the ravens he painted in fields of haystacks.
Emily Carr famously had her monkeys.
And naturally, cats are quite indicative of the artistic life. Nocturnal. Loners by reputation, private then surprisingly playful and social; they capriciously retreat back to loners again.
Quiet, prone to sudden naps, then wild tangos of fancy, energetic bursts, even bouts of destruction, a la the unwinding of the toilet paper roll! I have lived with animals for quite some time now, after a childhood of farm exploration and immersion into adulthood; strays, visits to the animal hospital, wildlife refuge for the wounded, pet sitting through the university years and finally making my way to my own homes and chosen 'wild beasts' to settle in with domestically.
My life is infinitely richer and more layered because of my connection to animals and the love and compassion we share, the antics, the laughter, and yes, even the loss, pain and lessons. Painting is just not the same without a cat messing things up and getting white paws covered in pthalo blue! (ACK!!!) (tips on bathing cats next blog).
We need joy and connection in our lives and these are the qualities our animal counterpoints bring in spades. Plenty of studies, as I'm sure you are already familiar so I won't bore you with here, show the efficacy of lowered blood pressure, lowered stress hormones, longer life, greater index of happiness....for those who access the love and affection of our furry friends.
fACT: Even watching a minute of cute kitten YOU tubes will bring an immediate smile and reduction of stress and lowered cortisol levels.
They fill a place and space in your heart no other can. The unspoken love acceptance and connection, a simply magnificant experience: and offered up with absolutely no judgement. There is simply no other place on earth, with no one else alive, that you will find that kind of unconditional adoration. They are forgiving, affectionate, loyal, often good humoured...adorable, soft, sweet, frisky, mischievous, often nuanced and amazing teachers.
Delightful inspiration and muse through the ages. Instigators of creative flow, opening the heart.
Pets are undoubtedly a member of the family although still, sometimes taken for granted. Words simply fall short of defining their significance and deep enrichment of our lives. I think the bonds are better captured with photos belying the tender alliance and dedication that can only be filled by these sublime creatures and enduring friends. Their mystery part of the allure, the language barrier, most certainly, an important part of the energetic bond.
Sampson was just such a guy. A king really. Quite a champion of the disdainful gaze, grounded and loving but never, mushy or cloying. I am honoured that I was his auntie, and that I was afforded a chance to bid a loving farewell.
As with Dusty; a request to the Gods , may her last weeks and days be gentle.
In honour of our daily champions....
(various artists with their pets: Frida Dahlo, Salvador Dali, Emily Carr, Matisse, Picasso, Georgia O'keefe, Andy Warhol, Herbert Tobias, John Cage)