by Liberty Finch
If 40 is the new 30, and white is the new black, then dogs are the new offspring-the latest self-indulgence of everyone from hipsters to hippies, baby boomers to retirees. In some countries people eat their hounds. In America, dogs have always been “man’s best friend,” and these days they’ve acquired a certain cachet that rivals that of your BFF or the most doting grandmother. No longer just companions, protectors or hunters, dogs have also become celebrity fashion accessories (think Paris Hilton and Britney Spears).
And it’s not just pet owners and celebs trying to redefine the phrase, “a dog's life,” there’s a community wide effort underway. Just look around: Coffee shops offer dog biscuits along with medium roast, espresso and croissants; doggie day care centers and dog-walking services are flourishing; and Florida Governor Jeb Bush recently signed a “doggie dining” bill that allows restaurants to serve both dogs and owners seated outdoors.
Like many people, Amy Brazil has been a dog lover since she was a kid. But as
an artist she has parlayed her love of dogs into a lucrative career that has
earned her a national reputation. Oprah has bought her work; so has Kirby Puckett
and the CEO of Coca Cola.
Best in Show is the aptly named exhibit of Brazil’s pooch portraiture
currently on display at Gallery 360 in southwest Minneapolis. For those familiar
with her paintings, there’s not a lot of new material. Most of the pieces
were created a few years ago, and some have already had splashy public exposure,
such as “La Chasse aux Papillons”—a colorful rendering of
a stoic Great Dane eyeing a sparkly butterfly against a lime green background.
The image was used as a window display at the Neiman-Marcus store in downtown
Minneapolis in summer 2001. Brazil had been working for the company as a makeup
artist for several years, and was later designated its artist-in-residence.
Since then she’s done numerous personal and professional commissions,
including “Bullseye,” the white bull terrier mascot for Target.
Commercially, Brazil designed a whole line of dog-related products for Target-note
cards, gift bags, magnets and more.
Best in Show, Brazil supplements her dog paintings with pet paraphernalia,
such as sequin-embellished dog food scoops. At $145 a pop, they're an opulent
accessory and earnest marketing tool, but pretty nonetheless. There are also
decorated dog collars and leashes.
Brazil’s pop-art style is whimsical, but not trite. She works big, using
vibrant acrylic colors, dazzling Swarovski crystals and semi-precious gemstones
to create a surprising amount of diversity in her dog-only themed work. Brazil
likes purebreds— chocolate Labrador retrievers, long-haired daschunds,
pugs, bulldogs, Great Danes, Springer spaniels and Boston terriers are just
a few of the breeds she’s painted. She regularly attends dog shows and
when she sees something she likes, talks to breeders and makes appointments
to sketch and photograph the dogs.
In her work, Brazil is successful in relaying a gamut of emotions and characteristics
among the pups: they’re obedient, sophisticated, standoffish, innocent,
charming and, of course, cute. “Papillons Alliance Parade” is a
standout piece that features a docile black and white Papillon against a candy-apple
red canvas, a mass of sequined butterflies adorned as world flags float above
its head. “Sid and Nancy” commands attention and refuses to conform
to the style of her other work. Here, two self-absorbed Chinese Crested canines
sport wild fur-dos and are set against a Sex Pistol-themed background; the frame
decorated with metal studs.
In addition to the dog portraits, Brazil offers smaller series pieces, such
as “Woof” and “Dog Bone.” The latter incorporates shimmering
three-dimensional bones against colorful striped canvases to represent “Preppy,”
“Passion,” “Devilish” and “Princess,” all
with a hint of glam.
A water dish sits in the corner of the gallery and a jar of doggie treats rests
on a bench. This exhibit is dog friendly, but I wouldn’t chance maneuvering
your pet through the space—it’s crammed with work, and allowing
dogs inside seems like inviting a bull into a china shop. Instead, tie him up
outside, browse the gallery, then hit nearby Lake Harriet for a stroll.
Gallery 360 is a joy to visit for its diversity of work. In addition to the
main gallery show, three other artists are featured in the 5-Foot Shows: Barbara
Evan, Alexandra Rozenman and Barbara Gilhooly. Their work is displayed among
numerous pieces by dozens of other talented artists in the front of the gallery.
Here you’ll find everything from clothing and jewelry to handmade tile,
toys and one-of-a-kind gifts. ||
Best in Show runs through July 23 and is located at 3011
W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-2400. Gallery hours are Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.;
sun. noon-5 p.m.