Dogs posses many qualities that allow them to express human emotions. Their almost innate sense of understanding happiness, sadness, sickness, and anxiety rightfully has awarded them the title of “man’s best friend” for centuries. Aside from the ancient Egyptians, who were self-proclaimed cat worshippers, dogs have fit prominently into the fabric of history and society, from Queen Elizabeth’s Welsh corgis to President Obama’s Portuguese water dog.
Harrowing tales of dogs saving their owners, and seeing first hand the total truth in the phrase “puppy dog eyes,” dogs often reflect our sentiments and comfort us in good and bad times. The idea that they mirror us is something that local artist Clair Hartmann explores in her art work, currently on display at the MC Erny Gallery at WHQR.
A Florida transplant, Hartman has been living in Wilmington for the past eight years after becoming engaged to Tavernay’s Jewelry owner Guy Pushee. Connected to Tavernay’s, Hartmann opened Sun Gallery as a place to display her art but also provide midtown Wilmington with access to a plethora of local artists.
Before moving to Wilmington, Hartmann always was interested in art. “When I was younger,” she says, “my main model was our Dalmatian, Jenny, who I used to sketch while she was sleeping.”
Pursuing a career in graphic design, Hartmann opened her own business in Florida, but decided to become a full-time painter upon her descent into North Carolina. Allowing exploration of her creative, artistic side, Hartmann began doing small paintings as a daily art lesson.
“Creating a painting a day allowed me to fully understand the process of painting,” she states. “How the brush fluidly moves the paint over the canvas, understand color, and form and also learn to be able to quickly translate what I saw to a canvas.”
Hartmann began selling these paintings at the farmer’s market. While there she noticed all of the dogs at the market. With two rescues of her own, her love for the pets transformed into a new project to tackle: “100 Dogs in 100 Days.” Using friends’ dogs and images from rescue and animal shelter sites, she composed a dog a day.
“I decided to do this not only because I love dogs but because I saw a real market for dog portraits,” Hartmann details. “And, as with the earlier painting-a-day series, I wanted to hone my skills.”
Situating herself as a sought-after dog portraitist, Hartmann captures the essence and personality of each canine. Her current exhibition, “Companions,” is an entirely new body of work. Ranging from small portraits to large-scale pieces, each image conveys a different emotion within her subjects. “Painting dogs makes me smile,” she says.
She uses her Jack Russell terriers, Frida and Chumley, as inspiration. Styled as a lord and lady of Henry VIII’s court, one of Hartmann’s favorite paintings of her two pups is “Look At Me.” It shows Chumley and Frida napping together, which Hartmann says parallels their wants and needs for tenderness and togetherness. The intertwining dogs almost disappear into one another, creating a mirror image of desire that everyone has for attention and affection.
Although Hartmann’s paintings feature dogs, she utilizes them as a metaphor of life. The emotional intensity present is evocative. From a longing for attention to an absolute freedom of existence, Hartmann encapsulates humanity with which we’re all familiar. By situating a dog in a place usually occupied by a human, she forces viewers to see an animalistic aspect of themselves.
While WHQR receives partial proceeds of any paintings that sell during art shows held at their MC Erny Gallery, Hartmann will also donate a proceed of sales to rescue groups who work diligently in finding homes for all of our canine friends. The MC Erny Gallery is located in WHQR’s studio in the Warwick Building at 254 N. Front Street, and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit www.whqr.org.
Artwork by Clair Hartmann
Final Fourth Friday reception: March 28, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
WHQR MC Erny Gallery
254 N. Front St. • (910) 343-1640
Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.