Paintings by Cathryn McEwen / February 16 to March 5 2011
Gallery Aloft, 660 Darling Street Rozelle NSW 2039
“Cani - può vivere con loro, non potrei vivere senza di loro.”
(“Dogs - can live with them, couldn’t live without them.”)
C McEwen 2011
I noticed Dogs initially as a potential focus for painting from my time in Berlin, and started some canvases early in 2009. Dogs were everywhere - which was not surprising given most Berliners live in apartments. I was impressed at how well they behaved in small places – more noticeably on the crowded trains. Dogs there seemed to have a more important status alongside the human inhabitants, being allowed in the restaurants, bars, and shops – anywhere their owners were found.
From there, I made my way across the south of Europe in April 2010, and completed a few more paintings in Barcelona, where Dogs were also a big part of everyday life. My travels culminated in a two month invitation to the MIRA artist residency in June/July, in the small rural town of Martignano in the south of Italy, where I didn’t expect there to be many Dogs at all. But they were everywhere.
I soon discovered that there is a huge problem with stray dogs in Italy – I expected stray Cats, but not Dogs. But in Martignano, about 10 years ago, a few of the children – now prominent citizens of the town – ‘adopted’ a few of the more exceptional puppies as “pets”. These animals were the ones to greet me everywhere I went in town and they were all known to the inhabitants who cared for, fed, and accepted them as part of their town life. There were happy dogs everywhere you went, and I never heard of any problems. Like their other European counterparts, these Dogs also knew they were on to a good thing – a harsher existence but still a good thing. Where every other town in the area seemed to have a problem with strays – the people here were smart enough accept them. It soon became apparent to me that if all the surrounding towns were to adopt the same practice, the stray Dog problem would be noticeably reduced. I enquired if a few of the local children could possibly take over the care of the animals and continue the good deed started by a handful of individuals. The next generation could then potentially learn to respect and care for these lovely animals. This was readily accepted as a viable and positive option.
In getting to know the individual Dogs, they became special to me too. I felt lucky to have experienced this relationship – they would never beg for food, they only seemed to be happy with the connection of someone talking to them (even in a foreign language) and a familiar face. At least that’s what I imagined for myself. They seemed to understand my concern for them. I get that bond every time I come in contact with Dogs especially, wherever I am, and I’m sure most people would say the same. You don’t have to be a pet owner to feel the connection. And we shouldn’t take this connection for granted, but honour it and learn from it. The lovely people of Martignano have.
Wouldn’t the world be a lonely place without Dogs. These wonderful animals have been associated throughout history with possessing our more positive human traits – traits such as protectiveness, guidance, loyalty, generosity, and companionship, and the outcome is that this evokes these positive emotions in us.
It’s disappointing that our capacity to feel this basic instinctive bond with this animal is not practiced with our fellow man in our everyday global existence, and leads me to conclude and therefore believe, that Dogs probably possess a higher intelligence.