For the last year, my friend Nevada City artist Roseanne Burke, has been working on a series of 20 encaustic portraits of women artists. As she shared her subjects with me, I began to see a trend; these women loved dogs. Many, like Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Virginia Woolf, and Marilyn Monroe, I had already featured here on Dog Art Today. A few, such as Mary Cassatt, Josephine Baker, Beatrice Wood and Ruth Asawa, required some research that turned up wonderful photographs and paintings of the artists with their canine companions.
In the end, it turned out 90% of the women had dogs. And Roseanne has two pups. So, although her exhibition, The Cool Girls: Encaustic Portraits of Remarkable Women, which opens this weekend, doesn’t include a single dog, I see it as much as a celebration of dogs as muses as women as artists.
I asked Roseanne if I could interview her about this dog/artist connection and she graciously agreed.
Moira McLaughlin: What was the initial spark of inspiration for this series?
Roseanne Burke: I had always been intrigued by encaustics, a process of painting with hot wax. And in 2013, I took workshop on it with local artist, Deborah Bridges. Although I had not done much portraiture, as I experimented with the medium, I immediately saw possibilities that I wanted to explore.
That same year, I watched the PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Make America about the struggle for women’s equality in the United States during the last half of the 20th century. Narrated by Meryl Streep, it featured interviews and archival footage of women from all social strata, from politicians and television stars to flight attendants, coal miners and phone company workers. As a woman who came of age in the 1970’s, I was struck by how hard so many women had fought for the rights we now enjoy and how much we stand to lose if we don’t stand up to the current political backlash against us. The Cool Girls is the intersection of these two events.
MM: How did you define “remarkable” and make your selections?
RB: I chose women whose work inspired me personally, who were internationally recognized for their art, and who did other remarkable things with their lives. My research on one woman would lead me to others. And, as I learned how multifaceted each one was, I discovered these women had accomplished so much more than I had been aware of, especially socially and politically. That brought the project full circle for me, since the recent attempts to limit women’s rights was one of the inspirations of the series.
MM: Do you see a correlation between dogs and art and how would you describe it?
RB: Dogs are love wrapped in fur. No matter how you are feeling about yourself on any given day, your dog loves you and thinks you are the best. I think artists often go through periods of frustration, self-doubt, artist’s block, and have pretty negative feelings about their work and perhaps their own value. Having a dog, an animal who absolutely loves you unconditionally, just makes you feel valued and sets you back on the right mental path. Maybe that's why so many of these artists had dogs.
MM: Did you discover other similarities between the women?
RB: The biggest similarity was their need to create their art. Many of them faced huge economic, social and political obstacles, but the forged ahead and made their art regardless.
MM: What surprised you the most in your research?
RB: I was really surprised by how many connections there were between the women. Some were subtle, for example the subject of Toni Morrison’s master’s thesis was suicide in the writings of Virginia Woolf. Some were direct; Josephine Baker and Frida Kahlo were lovers.
I was also reminded of the power of “sisterhood” as I discovered how these women helped and supported each other. For example, when Yayoi Kusama was having financial problems, Georgia O’Keeffe helped her to find a gallery and patrons and even offered her a place to live. And when Beatrice Wood was in her eighties and wrote her autobiography, Anaïs Nin convinced her own agent to represent her. These generous acts lead me to reflect with gratitude on the fellow artists (men and women) in my life who share information and experiences and help me make sense of the whole process.
MM: You began this series with one dog, Harry, your sweet, mellow 11-year-old Australian Shepherd mix, and then adopted Lyra, a rambunctious 12-week-old Terrier mix. I know you to be a meticulous planner. Do you think you were channeling the fearless spontaneity of one (or more) of these women when you got a puppy in the middle of preparing for this ambitious solo show? If so, who?
RB: My partner Jim and I had been planning to get another dog for the past two years. I had been looking on Petfinder.com and had applied for a few puppies, but they didn’t work out. When we saw Lyra, we arranged to meet her a few days later and decided that she was the one.
Once we made the decision, I knew it would all work out. I am a meticulous planner, but sometimes you just have to make a bold move. Everything of value in your life requires some effort or sacrifice. I could definitely use more sleep since we got Lyra, but she is so joyous, spunky, curious, and spontaneous and adds so much to our lives. I don’t really see myself as channeling the spontaneity of any particular woman, but dogs just make your life better – and most of the women seemed to have thought so too.
MM: How have Harry and then Lyra informed your work?
RB: Dogs just make you happy. And I do better work when I’m happy. They help me to stay in the moment and stay focused on the now. Even though Lyra demands a lot of time, strangely that has helped me stick to a very organized and regimented schedule. I’ve actually made more art since I got her.
MM: You are an avid reader of Dog Art Today and my best tipster, so I know you know your dog art. What are your three favorite pieces of dog art?
MM: I consider you a dog artist because you are a painter with dogs. And, I love the one painting I know of yours that features a dog, Ike’s Quarter Cafe. Do you have plans to paint your own dogs in upcoming works?
RB: I had always planned to commission a painting of Harry from one of many wonderful “dog artists.” Since we got Lyra, I’ve been taking lots of photos of the two of them together, and have been encouraged to do a painting, so we’ll see. Right now, I’m pretty focused on the women.
Thank you, Roseanne. I'm so inpired by these women and your "remarkable" work.
Visit Roseanne Burke's website to see to see all 20 women.
If you’re near Nevada County, please come to the opening reception for The Cool Girls: Encaustic Portraits of Remarkable Women this Saturday, April 26 from 4 – 7 pm.
Szabo Vineyards Tasting Room
316 Broad Street
Nevada City, California 95959
Exhibition runs until May 30, 2014.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome.*
*Tyler Foote was asked to leave after barking at a sassy Dachshund.