Thursday, July 19, 2012

Heavy Petting

Do you know the top spokesperson on television?

It isn’t Alex Trebek, William Shatner or Stephanie Courtney who plays Flo. It is and has been for almost thirty years, the World’s Greatest World War I Fighter Pilot Ace, Woodstock’s pal, Joe Cool himself, the great mystery writer, Snoopy

Why would a huge insurance company spend millions to license a cartoon character? Because like every pet owner knows, their pet is the World’s Greatest Pet of All Time and Snoopy is America’s pet.

Sure Garfield has his supporters and for the wild and free segment there’s the Roadrunner and even Wile E Coyote, but no one can top the brilliant beagle.

Who else has a Picasso over his pool table? (Thought I’d never manage to tie this into art didn’t you? Well you were wrong!) Who else has the literary credentials and introduced all of the world to the Bulwer-Lytton contest and made Petaluma a household name? Snoopy.

It was Snoopy who made the Sopwith Camel as well known as the Red Baron’s invincible Fokker Tripe. The beagle, the beagle, the Beagle did all of it and more.

And why has Snoopy been able to make such inroads in the American consciousness? Because every single dog owner believes their dog is as good as Snoopy. Every cat fancier wants to take a stand for feline kind and strike a blow for Garfield and prove that cats are the superior pet and even the mighty beagle can’t beat that.

And as an artist you should be working this side of the street for all it is worth. Sure household pets aren’t very exotic. No one ever made a movie about the Chihuahua who devoured Tokyo but Butch the Taco Bell Chihuahua made Yo Quiero Taco Bell the most well known Spanish phrase in the States. Paris Hilton is never seen without her fierce, vicious attack mouse. Want a wonderful musical smirk at the heiress? Take a look at Gretchen Wilson’s California Girls, the music is good and the parody is wonderful and the tiny Chihuahua can only point at Paris.

The next time you are out driving take a look at the car in front of you. The chances are good that in the rear window there will be a fat yellow cat waving a paw in your direction. If not you’ll see a decal of Garfield splattered across the back wind screen, or Garfield peeking out of the rear deck? The lasagna eating cat is everywhere.

So why am I bothering you with what you all ready know. Because you are not taking advantage of this opportunity, pets can be wonderful subjects for art.

No less an artist than J. M. Steele uses animals in many of her paintings and her ironic cows are some of the most thoughtful and arresting images you will ever see at an art show. S. L. Donaldson has a way with animals although hers are mostly wild and crazy and extremely colorful.

Master birders Kelle Herrick and Kim Wurster work the foul circuit and make a pretty good job of turning our fine feathered friends into art and cash. So where are your foul and friends?

I use my animals all the time and have for many, many years. The pictures serve both a memorial to pets long passed and subjects of animal portraiture.

Take Snoopy, (Thanks Sparky, I stole your character’s name but you’ll see why.) I took this picture about nineteen sixty-seven or eight, right about the time the ice flows receded and the mammoths died out.

About the same time I had a chance to meet Abe, a very literary basset hound and fine thoughtful fellow.

But the animals I’ve encountered have suffered nothing compared to my own. They get shot and re-shot and re-re-shot and they usually put up with it with patience of not grace.

Buttercup is my own Garfield. I probably should enter her in one of those animal look-alike contests but there’s always a chance she could win and then the sponsors would want to meet her and that’s when the blood letting would start. See, Buttercup is nuts, a cat Hannibal Lecter. She purrs and rubs against you and the minute you try to pet her she slashes with razor claws and draws blood. I donated more blood than a Red Cross Blood drive getting her caught and in the house. The front claws had to go but she doesn’t know and she still swats like an enraged tiger.

Baby Kitty was the polar opposite; all she wanted was a family and a dry place to sleep. She was a love and a dear from the minute she crawled out of the woods and came up for food. She didn’t take long to convince that a house and a doting owner was better than living in the wild with dogs and critters hunting for little, tiny baby kitties. Course by the time we lured her in we’d been calling her Baby Kitty so long the name was fixed so our gray darling is Baby Kitty forever.

And last, my pals, long departed but never forgotten, Apollo and Sugarbear. Apollo wasn’t my dog to begin with but once the wild red wolf-doggie came to stay he became my dog and a better, sweeter animal never lived. Sugarbear was a delight form the second he walked up and we kept him more because we needed him more than he needed a home. Boys, I still miss you.

But I have the pictures and I’ll add the current lot to the collection and somewhere in there I’ll find a shot that should become a bigger piece and then my pet will get a place in the art world.

How about yours?

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