Sunday 26 August 2012

The aging princess

Over the past months I've been introducing blog readers to my family of furry companions. I started with the two cats, Rascally Rupert and then Archie, the Cat Who Could Fly, and now I think it's only fitting that I tell you a bit about my dog Riley, aka the Collie Princess.

HRH Princess Riley

Just looking at Riley's photo tells you why she's known as "the princess". Regal and dignified, she is a gorgeous purebred rough collie who celebrated her 11th birthday earlier this month. That means she's been with me for over nine years, arriving via the kind folks at
Okanagan Collie Rescue (don't let the name fool you; they intervene on behalf of unwanted collies, and sometimes other breeds, in a large area of western Canada and even the northwestern United States). At the time it amazed me that this wonderful animal could end up homeless, but a digestive problem soon surfaced - one that took considerable time and effort to resolve - and I have spent more than a few sleepless nights caring for an unwell dog. No doubt previous owners did not have the energy or commitment to deal with this problem. Happily, it eventually turned out to be no more than a food sensitivity which has been controlled nicely through dietary restrictions.

Riley in her younger, more energetic days.

Today Riley a happy and healthy geriatric princess who rules her domain with benevolent grace. She and the cats get along well as long as they don't wake her up when she's sleeping. Such an intrusion will result in an angry snarl (I'm kind of the same when someone wakes me up). I have observed them tip-toe oh-so-carefully around her when she chooses to sleep, as dogs so often do, in the middle of a doorway. At other times I have watched them wind around her legs and even under her belly, and then rub their faces on her muzzle - an indignity she endures stoically with an expression of royally bored indifference.

Riley and Archie sharing some quality time. Riley has squeezed herself
into (or onto) a cat bed identical to the one Archie's curled up in.

Over the years, beautiful Riley has, naturally, inspired my art a number of times, from classic portraits to whimsical paintings:

The coloured pencil portrait of Riley that hangs by my front entrance.

Riley posing by her portrait at an Artist's Open House I held a few summers ago.
"Three's Company" - an oil pastel painting of Riley on the sofa, surrounded by cats.

"Running Free" - a silk painting inspired at a get-together for adopted collies and their people.
The dogs obviously enjoyed one anothers' company, as did the people.

Riley is now coping with arthritis and in the last year I have observed her slow down significantly. She remains a happy girl who always greets me with a gentle tail wag and a long-nosed collie grin, who comes to my bedside for a goodnight scratch then sleeps on the floor beside me, and who guards the property against squirrels, wandering cats and the seemingly innocent black lab who lives down the road (for some reason known only to her she has a strong dislike for this particular dog). She welcomes all human visitors warmly, confident that they have all come specifically to see her. She is the source of some amazingly large collie-fur dust-bunnies that I find below the furniture. In her younger days, she destroyed a number of cordless phones and TV remotes (she had a penchant for electronic devices and the humans in our household had a hard time learning to place them beyond her reach) but now limits her chewing activities to her rubber bone.

Over our time together she has accompanied me on countless walks in all kinds of weather, tolerating with good grace my habit of suddenly stopping in my tracks to observe and/or photograph a bird. I have to reciprocate when she is suddenly captivated by an interesting smell and stops equally suddenly to investigate. Campbell Valley Park has always been a favourite haunt of ours, and we know all the best places for both birds and smells. However, our walks are now much more limited in duration and speed, and so sometimes I sneak away from the house while she's sleeping so I can get in a farther/faster hike. She always forgives me and later we go for a gentle walk around the neighbourhood.
Observing wildlife at the park.

Deep down I know my time with Riley is drawing to a close. I try not to think about it and instead focus on enjoying each and every day with her. She is the first dog I have owned as an adult and she has taught me much about the ways of dogs, and about the ways dogs can enrich our lives through their unwavering loyalty, easy companionship and exceptional listening skills. They motivate us to get more exercise, they teach us patience, and they show us how to enjoy the most simple pleasures life offers. During the time she has been with me, I have created dozens of commissioned portraits of beloved dogs - each with a story of love, loyalty and in many cases loss - and my relationship with Riley has given me insight into what the owners of these dogs are feeling. It's a bond that is so uniquely special it defies description.
Today I think I'll take my own special dog for a meandering walk at the park. We'll stop frequently, feel the sun on our faces, and listen to the wind rustling the late summer leaves. And I'll be thankful every minute for this day spent with her.
"Waiting for Walk Time"

Friday 17 August 2012

Art vs Sport

It's been a while since my last entry. As you may recall, a few weeks ago I was fully immersed in preparing for the Filberg Festival which turned out, as it has in the past, to be a wonderful event. While I was at the festival, the Summer Olympics were in full swing so each evening, after an exausting day, I'd sit in front of the television and catch up on the latest goings-on in London.

When I started this blog, I intended it to be a way to share my life as an artist. I pledged to myself that I'd never write anything controversial; I would just stick to the good stuff, the warm and fuzzy aspects of my experiences. However watching the Olympics while I was myself in the throes of what felt like an epic art event brought an irritating little thought to surface of my mind and it just wouldn't go away: Why do humans, at this time and place in history, have such a huge appreciation for sports achievements—so much so that we hold an incredibly expensive, wildly popular, massive international event to celebrate it—and yet when it comes to art, the level of public energy expended is, well, far less than Olympian standards? In my mind, the discipline and dedication of artist and athelete are comparable. I seem, however, to be in the minority. I've been mulling this over and here are my thoughts about the popularity of sport over art, in no particular order of significance:

1) Art is considered by many to be simply a pleasant pastime or hobby.
When I left my 9-5 job to pursue art full-time, many said "Oh, how nice that you can devote yourself to your hobby! But aren't you too young to retire?" My life as an artist resembles anything but a hobby or retirement. I have never worked harder. I spend long hours in my studio and I'm obsessed with art all the time. It's pretty much all I think about. I'm content with this state of affairs, actually happy! I may not be tirelessly training my body to be able to run the fastest or farthest, or swim, jump, dive, wrestle or cycle better than anyone else, or to take part in any other of those gruelling sports we watched with enthusiasm over the past couple of weeks. I do, however, work extremely hard honing my skills. I am completely dedicated to it.

2) People do not trust themselves to know good from bad when it comes to art; they are confused as to who the "winner" is and why. Unlike a race where there's a clear winner or a sport where there are goals scored or points deducted for certain wrong moves, figuring out what is "good" art is a mystery to most. Why does a seemingly simple painting of a red stripe (referring to a certain abstract painting acquired by the National Gallery of Canada some years ago at what many saw as an exhorbitant price) demand such high regard over the best efforts of a minor painter who toils tirelessly to perfect his/her craft, and whose work can be fully appreciated by even the most casual viewier? (Here I'm referring to any one of a number of artists I know.) It's hard for people to appreciate things they don't "get". And the art people often like best is viewed by the art establishment as insignificant. It seems that when the average person likes it, it's no good. Small wonder people are suspicious of it and, in general, lack enthusiasm.

3) Artists are often quiet loners who avoid the limelight. While this isn't always true, it's pretty common that artists have introspective personalities and can be more-than-a-bit reclusive (says I, who loves nothing more than a day alone in my studio). I can't for a moment imagine myself being interviewed for TV, Olympic athelete style, and chit-chatting away about all my hard work, my family's sacrifices, and my drive to be a winner. I'm just not that kind of person and art, somehow, isn't that kind of activity. It's far too personal. A few days ago, I had my own sort-of Olympic moment. A courier truck pulled up and signed over a box. What was in it? My first ever art trophy and accompanying prize (go to the Coloured Pencil Society of Canada website for more details). I sat on a bench in front of my house to open the package with my husband and collie as the only witnesses. It was perfect.

So what could an international Olympic-style arts event look like? I'm talking about the kind of event the average person could get enthusiastic about and root for their favourite artist in his/her chosen discipline. There could be plein air painting marathons, high-speed life-drawing, pot throwing, precision carving... all manner of interesting possibilities! Not too many team competitions, though, given the loner aspect of the vocation. And maybe instead of a medal ceremony we could recieve some sort of quiet accolades and then quickly get back to making more art which is, in and of itself, it's own reward.