04 October 2011

Next After This Post

My Issues in Contemporary Art professor is super hip, so this semester he is having us write blog posts instead of papers. I, obviously, am all over this. This is my first post, "Personified Animals". Originally posted here: Next-After-This.
Ryan Berkley, Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, 2011
Animals have long been the subject of artists' affection. From the variety of animals painted on the ancient walls of the caves at Lascaux, to the variety of florescent animals Lisa Frank illustrated, people love animals. In classical paintings, dogs needed to be in family portraits and thoroughbreds needed to have their portraits painted. And today, who does not have a framed photo of their cat? Lately, there has been an influx of personified animals in art.

In the spirit of the late Richard Scarry, a well-known children's book illustrator and author, many artists have taken to suiting up animals and capturing their portraits. There is no rhyme or reason to which animals are illustrated, all are welcomed and equally silly. Artists have drawn anything from rabbits with bowties on to horses with monocles. Tons of animal portraits like this have popped up on the internet over the past few years, thanks to the relative ease of selling art on various websites. The online craft shop, Etsy, is an online hot spot for this type of art. Larger retail stores have also begun to catch on to this trend. Urban Outfitters, a popular clothing store for 20-somethings, carried several animal portraits illustrated by Ryan Berkley from 2008-2010, which further popularized the trend. 

Berkley illustrates a wide variety of animals and enjoys himself while doing so, saying, "I'm a comics-inspired gentleman surrounded by toys and Chewbacca masks. I like drawing sharks and animals and creatures and daredevils and superheroes. Sometimes I combine all of them. Sometimes they are on their own. It really depends on my mood." That is the essence of the personified animal trend- it is fun. Berkley's Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal could mean something deep and philosophical like he felt his parents were like cardinals darting from one church event to another, keeping up appearances during his childhood, but maybe it does not mean anything, as it could be with any other piece of art. 
Donna McKenzie, Bears Love Flannel Shirts, 2011
Donna McKenzie's portraits of animals are more relaxed in tone, and often include accessories. Many of her illustrations have a yearbook photo feel to them, so the animals have expressions on their faces like they have been caught off guard by the photographer or are just awkward. When McKenzie pairs an animal with an accessory, they seem mismatched. Chickens with tattoos, beavers with mittens, and owls with hats all are silly in air. All of them are the illustrated renderings of mad libs, almost as if the artist threw a words into a bag and selected a few for the topic of the piece. These juxtapositions keep the illustrations fun and lively. It also keeps the topic fresh. Chickens have long been the subject of many kitchen towels, but how many out there have tattoos on?
Ashley Goldberg, Masquerade, 2010
This trend isn't the most sophisticated or complicated to understand, and I think that is the point of it. These artists are illustrating things that they enjoy and images they think are funny. Ashley Goldberg mostly illustrates animals and people who seem to be in their own little world. Of her work she says, "My artwork tends to be simple, but with a sophisticated or stark color palette. I believe great emotion can be conveyed in a simple gesture or look. The characters I create, whether monsters or little girls, are simple, humorous, empathetic, and a little bit pathetic." 

In a time of economic turmoil, wars, and high gas prices, people need something that is silly and not hard to think about. The animal portraits are easier to think about than some things, because they generally are not offensive and the animals have kind expressions on their faces. Animals in human clothes seem silly to most people, and they offer a little bit of comic relief in this sometimes otherwise unfriendly world.

1 comment:

  1. this is awesome! totally following you now! I know NOTHING about art so this is going to be good for me, I can feel it!

    adventures of newlyweds