Saturday, March 19, 2016

Of Dogs and Postcards

As an artist I have a lot of freedom.
I can do whatever I want.
No one can tell me what to do.
It's all up to me.

William Wegman

Although best known for his photographs and videos of his beloved Weimaraner hounds, the artist William Wegman started his career as a painter gaining both his Bachelor and Masters of Fine Art in that discipline.

But, as he says in text for his current New York exhibition “I studied painting in art school but by the time I graduated in the 1960’s, painting was dead.”

As a result, Wegman gravitated towards photography and video via installation and performance art. It was whilst teaching at the California State University in Long Beach, that he got his first dog and collaborative partner, Man Ray.

As he explained to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jo Reed “He was six weeks old when I got him in 1970 from Long Beach. I was living in San Pedro, but teaching in Long Beach for one year. He persuaded me to do it. He was around me constantly. I couldn't really keep him out. I'd go to my studio and I'd tie him up at the corner so he wouldn't start chewing things that I was lining up on the floor. And he would whine. So it was much easier to let him chew the things and then photograph him doing it or videotaping him.”

With his deadpan presence, Man Ray, became the central figure in Wegman’s photographs and videos. To such an extent that New York’s Village Voice newspaper named Man Ray their "Man of the Year" in 1982, the year of his death.

Four years later Wegman obtained another Weimaraner, Fan Ray, and along with her off-spring and their off-spring, Wegman has continued the collaborations.

Which has caused the former editor in chief of the American Photo Magazine, David Schonauer to write “His pictures puncture the regal bearing of the beautiful dogs by surrounding the animals with the absurd artifacts of everyday human life… Wegman is having some fun, but it’s really at our expense, not the dog’s. The dog is just there to help us enjoy being shown for what we are.”

In the 1980’s Wegman realized that his pronouncement of paintings demise was a little hasty.

As he said “When I started to have dreams that I was painting-- I think it was in my mid-40s; or even late 40s-- I felt like I really had to do it.”

About which he said in a November 2015 Blog entry “When I returned to painting I thought it would be smart strategy to skip everything I learned in art school which lead me out of painting and go back to my childhood sources for inspiration… I began to use the history of painting on itself. A work of mine that stands out for me in this regard is a painting of tents. Tents are made of canvas...paintings are made on canvas...  All I ever needed was an excuse to paint. And now I had one… In a few years I began to use postcards in this way more and more, first on paper, and later on wooden panels where they can be glued to the surface. Today they dominate my work and I have too many cards to stop.” 

Wegman’s current exhibition Postcard Paintings is on show at New York’s Sperone Westwater Gallery until the 23rd of April.

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