…that’s what this painting is really about.
It’s not that I have an extra special dog (each of us thinks we have the best dog ever, right?), it’s just there’s these situations I experience with Dexter in which I think: “That’s it! The meaning of life, right there…in that expression, gesture, outlook.” Or what I would like to think as the meaning of life—living life to the fullest at that moment. I think that’s why I love being around dogs so much—they remind me to live in the present and enjoy every single, lickety-split moment of it. Well that, and my dogs just make me laugh. Daily. How lucky is that?
Joie de vivre
“Walk.” Such a simple word, and yet it causes such an uproar of barking, whining and shouting when the word is even whispered. To be honest, we have terriers (Jackrats= 1/2 Jack Russell Terrier and 1/2 Rat Terrier, about 13 lbs. each—”My mama was a ratty and my papa was a JR Terrorist…” sounds like a good country song doesn’t it?). So words have great transformative power since everything is just so frickin’ exciting with these little excitable dogs. Even casually mentioning over the phone that you’ve gotta go take a quick power *nap* will result in a gurgled scream and vanishing little dogs who magically are transported up the stairs, silently waiting by the upstairs bedroom door. Little bodies vibrating with excitement. A nap for godsakes.
So…walks start with a cacophony of squeals, yips, ear-splitting-high-pitched barking, breathless scratching at the floor, snarling of lips, pawing at shoelaces that are trying to be tied, jumping with tongues shooting out trying to french kiss …even before we are out the door. (this is just Zuzu and Dexter the Jackrats that do all this. Ivan, the Great Pyr, quietly waits and whispers a breathless sort of whine–almost can’t hear it). When’s the last time you got that excited about exercise? I know, right? And for those of you who think this sounds like bad dog ownership with dogs *completely* out of control…you would be right. It is a time that I forego my commands of “inside voices!” etc. I just want to get the heck outside.
The transformative power of inanimate objects
When we burst out of the gate like racehorses at the track, Dexter starts barking over and over at me “Find me a stick I need a stick now now now!!!”
If I’m feeling lazy and say “find your own damn stick,” he ignores me and insists insists until I simply, slightly nudge a stick with my foot and with an excited lunge (and that funny gurgled scream: “YES!”), he grabs it and sprints off down the driveway.
This is a 10-yr-old, arthritic little guy (he has had a tough life with 2 near-death experiences being attacked by a bigger dog, and those injuries have come back to haunt him in old age), but suddenly he is transformed into a puppy. He skips and leaps and fakes. High steppin’ it like those show horses, eyes bright and huge and sparkly with the fun of the game. “I’ve got a stick a stick a stick!” he growls and pants, mouth jammed open with the best stick ever. The transformation to puppyhood by holding onto this inanimate object reminds me of the miraculous powers of the magic feather in Dumbo.
In this particular instance (the little paintings here) Dexter shot off like a rocket when he saw the prized “next” stick…he found this ginormous branch—he was hardly able to pull it out of the brush pile that James had so carefully constructed for future hauling away. As James worried aloud “Oh no Dexter, not *that* stick it’s too big” (Dexter has had expensive dental work done as well–he has terrible teeth that need cleaning yearly–and he kind of needs most of his teeth to catch/kill mice/little rodents, which is his actual farm job), Dexter ignored him, in fact, pulled faster, fearing that we would take this treasure away from him. Swaying slightly with the weight of the thing—it was a fairly heavy tree limb about 6ft or so long—he revved up like a little car overloaded with maximum passenger limit and started trotting, high stepping, and leaping (as high as the weight would allow him), eyes bright and darting side to side to see if we would chase him.
Can’t touch this
Remember that song by MC Hammer U Can’t Touch This? That’s what I was thinking when I was painting these little paintings. I know, kinda weird, but when Dexter has a stick in his mouth, it’s also all about the fact that he has the stick and you can’t touch it. Go on, try try try…can’t touch this. You know you want it. C’mon and try,”…my my my (can’t touch this),…Look at my eyes, man (You can’t touch this)…. Yo, I told you (You can’t touch this)… Why you standing there, man? (You can’t touch this)….” And just like the song, Dexter goes on and on and on…faking and lunging and teasing, eyes bright and smiling while he stares directly into your eyes, willing you to lunge for it as his feet prance back and forth ready for the mad dash away. It is in these moments that he is absolute, unabashed mischief itself.
And you thought this was just a simple portrait of a simple little dog taking a walk with a simple stick in his mouth…. Now you know that these precious little portraits hold the secret to a joyful (albeit very melodramatic) life: Bark loudly and carry a big stick.
Available at Artisan Gallery now (through December, 2014)
To see what’s available (including these two paintings featured here) and for prices please visit the artist’s page at Artisan Gallery.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, please visit Paoli and see not only my solo show In Dog Years, but also dozens of wonderful pieces in the Small Works Show, as well as the humorous and ambitious show In the Cooler: Temporary Residence by Ted Lott (I’m proud to say we were grad students together at UW-Madison—MFAs, 2011). Awesome artist and work!