Art With Animal Attraction

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“Cat Scan” by Lucia Heffernan
“Cat Scan” by Lucia Heffernan

By Annette Hinkle

Those of us who have been in the newspaper business for a while have come to realize there is a certain trend which seems to transcend generations and geography — put a picture of an adorable puppy or kitty on the cover of your publication, and you’ll get noticed.

Maybe it’s an inherent part of our human nature, but it seems very few people can resist images of very cute animals — or any animal for that reason. And this Saturday, art goers and animal lovers alike will have the opportunity to get an eyeful when the Richard J. Demato Art Gallery in Sag Harbor opens “A Magical Menagerie,” an exhibit of 30-plus paintings and mixed media works all depicting animals.

There’s a reason for all the fauna. This exhibit is a fundraising benefit for the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF). The art on view represents a selection culled from several hundred pieces which were submitted to the gallery by artists from around the globe. Gallery staff as well as folks at the animal shelter foundation were involved in deciding on the final pieces for the show. While there are plenty of paintings of dogs and cats in the show, the work included isn’t limited just to those kinds of animals. All the art is for sale with prices starting under $1,000 and going all the way up to $45,000, and a portion of proceeds from work sold will go directly to the shelter.

This is an exhibit model that gallery owner Richard Demato has employed with great success in the past, not just for SASF, but also for The Retreat, an organization which provides domestic violence services to victims of abuse on the East End.

He explains how this particular collaboration came about.

"Bernie the Rat" by Alex Bauwens
“Bernie the Rat” by Alex Bauwens

“I’ve had dogs since I was a kid. Since 1992, I’ve had numerous dogs at one time,” explains Mr. Demato. “My friend Jonathan McCann is president of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF). We obviously saw the success with The Retreat art show and what we did with Fountain House [a New York City-based non-profit that helps people recover from mental illness] and I suggested to Jonathan we try it.”

That was four years ago, and each year, this exhibit brings in a substantial amount of money for the shelter.

“We actually sell more animal shelter paintings than we do for The Retreat because it’s a wider audience. There’s a tremendous market for animal related art because most people have a pet. They’re fun,” says Mr. Demato. “Last year we raised $5,000 to $8,000 for them.”

“This year I think we have a much more diverse group of art — price wise and taste wise,” adds Mr. Demato. “We tried to diversify the animals — we selected dogs, cats, ducks and chickens.”

That means there’s something for everyone, literally, and among the pieces selected for the show is one by Lucia Heffernan, a painter based in Utah, whose oil painting “Cat Scan” depicts a feline subject peering above an x-ray screen with paws resting on the frame. In the x-ray, however, it’s apparent that this kitty has been up to no good and we can see what has been ingested — including a couple mice, a bird and a goldfish.

Not into cats? That’s OK. Under the category of “not for everyone” is Bernie The Rat, a painting by Alex Bauwens a Scottsdale, Arizona artist who has a barn as well as a collection of beloved animals. Among them, apparently, is Bernie, and despite how you might feel about rats personally, Ms. Bauwens has rendered her subject with such skill and obvious attention to detail that you can’t help but find him appealing (even if you can appreciate the fact that Bernie is present only in the form of oil on canvas).

"Canines and Color" by Iris Scott
“Canines and Color” by Iris Scott

Another artist whose work that Mr. Demato finds particularly appealing in this show is Iris Scott. Her nearly impressionistic paintings of dogs shaking water off themselves freeze the canines in action and they possess a look of sheer joy that only wet dogs seem able to muster. Classically trained in Florence Italy, Ms. Scott’s works are rendered in oil through a less than classical approach — finger painting. It’s a method she resorted to while living abroad in Taiwan. Faced with the prospect of cleaning a bunch of dirty brushes, Ms. Scott decided to save time by resorting to her fingers. She does, by the way, wear surgical gloves during the painting process.

"Pecking Order" by Andrea Kowch
“Pecking Order” by Andrea Kowch

Also intriguing is “Pecking Order “ a painting by RJD Gallery artist Andrea Kowch featuring “chickens gone wild” in the pantry of a country kitchen where a composed young woman at the center of the canvas passively manages the plethora of eggs with which she must now contend.

Again, like “Bernie The Rat,” this painting may not be for everyone — but it certainly is for people who keep chickens. Not that many of those find their way to the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation. But as Mr. Demato notes, that’s the wonderful part of this show and in the end, the money that makes its way to SASF will be put to a good cause.

“Their big push now is they’ve been so successful with the inexpensive spaying of dogs, the demand is beyond the size of the facility,” explains Mr. Demato. “They need another medical room and they need to enlarge the shelter. It’s a great service.”

The opening for “A Magical Menagerie” is this Saturday, May 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. and while you might feel tempted to bring your dog to this most animal-friendly exhibit (this is Sag Harbor, after all)arH, Mr. Demato is requesting that people kindly keep their real life pets at home for the evening and just come to enjoy the painted ones on the wall.

“We ask people not to bring their dogs to the opening because we’re worried about the stairs,” notes Mr. Demato. “And dogs having disagreements.”

“A Magical Menagerie” in support of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation runs through May 21, 2015 at RJD Gallery, 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor (725-1161, RJDgallery.com). Paintings from the exhibit may also be viewed and purchased through the online site artsy.net.

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