by Laurel Hunter
My desk, where I work as a graphic designer, is near a hallway that leads to the front door of our office. People with dogs walk by all day taking breaks. Smokers and dog-owners leave the building while the rest of us sit in meetings and stare at computers and, if we are lucky, leave the building for lunch up the road. I needed a dog! Since I’m not known for being a dog person, this came as a surprise to my skeptical honey, but after watching me research dogs on the internet and visiting shelters, he believed me and now we have Emma, the notorious stick thief, shoe-mover, and guard dog of the cubicle. I love her more than I knew I could. When she is with me at work, she sleeps by my feet, takes me out for runs and bike rides at lunch, and demonstrates great joy at my arrival back from meetings. Maybe I am not quite as productive…. this is possible. But now I like being at work. She has changed the way I spend my time, and changed the way that I work.
After I saw how a dog affected my own work environment and knowing a number of dog-owning artists, I wondered, “Do dogs who live with artists affect their creative output? Do rambunctious hounds trample wet and delicate work, chew the corners off of a new sculpture? Do they inspire, provoke ideas? The Year of the Dog, an exhibit opening this week at the Rio Gallery, examines some of these questions and so with this exhibit in mind I asked four artists about their relationships with their dogs.
Tyler Hackett, a student at Weber State University who is exhibiting this month at Meyer Gallery’s Utah Art Students Juried Show, says his dogs Whiskey and Hayden have ancestral roots in the Iditarod and they raced and worked as sled dogs before he brought them to Utah for a life of comparative ease. Hackett had been raised to think dogs were dirty animals and of no benefit to a person. “I will admit they are dirty, but there are great benefits living with another form life,” he says. “Sometimes it is nice to have a non-human perspective on things.” He compares his working method to the life of his dogs. “I consider my process of working to be rather spontaneous, meaning that when I work I do not have a concrete image of the finished product in my mind, I am somewhat willing to let the result find itself. Just as my dogs like to chase a tennis ball for no other purpose than the activity, I am happy to work that way as well.”
Amanda Moore is a photographer who checks that her cameras are working by taking pictures of her dogs. “When I try to think about what it would be like to have an animal-free studio, in some ways the lack of fur would be nice but I prefer the company. You are never talking to yourself as long as there is a dog in the room. ” Moore spends a lot of time traveling and because the dogs are such an important aspect of her life, she brings them along. Which means she travels by car. “So much of my photography is around the old highway culture and I don’t know if it would have affected me so much if we weren’t always traveling by car.”
Polly Hart’s dogs, Sitzmark and Bingo, are big skiers and outdoor adventurers. One of them wears a handmade silver and pearl necklace. Hart, a jeweler and silversmith, occasionally makes doggy-themed objects for dogs and people, but her dogs primarily inspire her to leave the studio. “They remind me of what’s important in this world. They are huge stress reducers, and they force me to take work breaks.”
Paul Stout, who is allergic to dogs, makes intricate and delicate digital sculptures, using his house as a studio. His dogs, Rosie and Otto, can be aggressive lickers if you get your face too close. “They either keep me sane or make me crazy, or some combination of those,” he says. “They motivate me to make work that is not attractive as a chew toy. When they were younger I would find all sorts of things all chewed up in the yard. . . I think they influence my art through the understanding that comes from living with animals. Since I am interested in the interface between humans and “nature” it is interesting to live in such an intimate connection to other animals.”
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.