Beau: Model & Avatar

“…the first metaphor was animal.”  John Berger, "Why Look at Animals?"

In 2003, I adopted Beau from a shelter to honor the first-year anniversary of my sister's death. A decade later, I began working with him. The transitory nature of time and memory and the inevitability of loss are the conceptual foundation of this body of work, which focuses on the relationship between my aging basset hound Beau - who appears as both model and avatar - and myself. 

​My work references the iconography of old masters to create connections between past and present, to look at contemporary experiences within a historical context and to question the traditional male gaze. Historically, artists have used women as models and muses and my work with Beau is an extension and inversion of that tradition. However, I grant my model subjectivity. Beau gazes directly back at the viewer, or turns his back to her/him. In Beau (Window), my source is Ingres' Valpicon Bather, 1808. Beau's position mirrors that of Ingres' model, while the elongation of Ingres' bather finds its contemporary parallel in Beau's long spine. I worked to capture the stillness and mystery of this painting, on my own terms. In Beau (Powderhouse Square), my reference is "The Rokeby Venus", 1647, by Velázquez. The motif of the mirror is central in my painting, where Beau's reflection is distorted to gaze at the viewer, just as Venus' face is distorted. Often I position Beau as a stand-in for the viewer - see Beau (Field) and Beau (Tile Floor) - referencing Caspar David Friedrich's strategy. Beau (Tile Floor) also references the tile floors in Renaissance painting, dissolving the linear perspective with the paint, fusing time and space. Beau (Striped Chair) plays with the iconography of the odalisque as does Portrait with Doppelgänger, with Beau meeting the viewer's gaze. In all these paintings, the large scale and the physicality of the paint create images that live in the present.
 
Technically, I use a variety of painting methods including imprimatura, wet-in-wet and glazing, combining both contemporary and historical techniques, paralleling my use of historical iconography with contemporary subject matter.  Based on my archive of photographs (always candid, never posed), the work is rooted in observation and sensory knowledge. Photography allows me to see more than is possible in the moment – expression, movement, light, point of view. Though I reference this information when composing each image, the paintings are process-driven, leaving the photographs behind. Moments of visual clarity dissolve into transparencies, tracing the tenuous relationship between presence and absence. More artists including Mamma Anderson, Chantal Joffe, Peter Doig, Alice Neel, Edvard Munch, and Philip Guston inspire me and are touchstones in my work. 
 
In Travels with Beau and 13, I foreground my photographic sources to further explore the theme of time. While Travels celebrates years of our car rides together in the tradition of American road trips, 13 acknowledges Beau’s impending mortality. Exploring the complexities of perceptual knowledge and in dialogue with art history, these objects are acts of embodiment in the face of the ephemeral.

 
   
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