Saturday, April 23, 2011

Serious Humour: Designated Driver

Designated Driver - acrylic - 22" x 22" - 2010

When I spotted the bulldog behind the wheel of the red pick-up I burst out laughing. I was returning to my car in the parking lot of a neighbourhood supermarket. I grabbed my camera from the car and hurried back to the pick-up, hoping that the dog wouldn't move and that its owner wouldn't return before I'd snapped a couple of photos.

A dog in the front seat of a vehicle is a common enough sight, but this was unusual because of the dog's size. It looked as large as a human driver, and was taking its responsibilities so seriously that the title "Designated Driver" suggested itself to me right away. If the boss had come back to his truck the worse for wear, the dog looked perfectly capable of driving home safely.

Sometimes what I think will be the hardest part of a painting turns out to be easy, and vice versa. I assumed that painting the dog's portrait would be extremely challenging, but in fact it came together without much effort. The vehicles, on the other hand, were horribly difficult to get right, especially the vents of the pick-up's radiator grille. I often seem to struggle with perspective issues. Some artists seem to manage perfectly well with wonky lines and tipsy buildings. Others go to extremes of mathematical plotting to ensure accuracy. Personally I don't much care whether it's exactly "right", but in a painting that's otherwise realistic it seems to me that the scene should look convincing and the buildings stand solidly on their foundations. I don't even like those new-fangled real sky-scrapers that twist and lurch and project outwards: they make me feel a bit seasick. So I work away at the perspective in my paintings until things feel stable and grounded.

When working on a painting I inevitably spend a lot of time thinking about my subject. In the case of "Designated Driver" I put myself in the place of the bulldog, and soon I didn't find its situation so funny. Dogs are animals that live to a great extent ruled by the instincts of the wolves from which they are descended. What must it feel like to be left all alone in a completely artificial and inorganic capsule in the barren wastes of a car park? Does the dog regard the vehicle as a sort of extension of the pack's den, which it is obliged to defend on behalf of its human boss? What can it be thinking about as it sits there waiting, surrounded by the incomprehensible nonsense of human strangers coming and going, entering and leaving their metal boxes, creating ghastly noises and fumes as they drive away? With questions like these running through my mind, my amusement at my subject gave way to sympathy and admiration for the dog's patience and tolerance. Living in our mechanized urban world is frustrating enough at times for us humans who invented it. How must it feel to have to live in it without having a clue why it's the way it is, or what's the point of it all?

One thing I really enjoy about showing my work is that sometimes it reminds people of stories or experiences that they share with me. I heard several dog-in-car stories at the 2010 Eastside Culture Crawl, but my favourite was one about a big, fierce-looking dog whose owner didn't bother to take the keys out of the ignition or lock the car, confident that no one would try to break into such a well guarded vehicle. No one did . . . but on more than one occasion the owner got locked out, by his dog! Presumably the dog heaved himself around in the seat and pressed down the lever that locked the car from the inside. Or did he perhaps have a mischievous sense of humour?

Next time (around May 1): Spot the Difference: "Through a Curtain" as it was and as it is

Through a Curtain -  refinished 
Through a Curtain - as first painted
If you can figure out why I changed it you have very sharp eyes . . . or maybe a strange way of seeing things!

1 comment:

Diane said...

Well, you've got me hooked on the enigma here :-). The back of the chair was making too solid a barrier in the "first" version. You've lightened it up and this allows the viewer to go past the chair into the outward vision of the person sitting on the chair. Also, for some reason, it becomes easier to actually see the person is in the chair. At first glance, I had seen colours rather than the person and it was the foot that made me look again! The second version also seems to be slightly cropped top and bottom and the pink line widened and intensified to the right. I think that this has improved the overall proportions.