Discovering the Dog

6_bastards_kodritsch_page_gruen_web

Wolfgang Drechsler
Discovering the Dog

Dog, painting – the search engine comes back with 307,000 hits in German. After going through about 50 pages we have turned up two favourites: on the one hand Erika Billeter’s 2005 publication, the magnificent book Hunde und ihre Maler (Dogs and Their Painters), and on the other hand numerous offers to complete Porträts mit Seele (Portraits with Soul) of your beloved four-legged friend.

On Billeter’s book, which is a collection of 350 paintings over a period of 5 centuries from around 130 artists that is more than 400 pages thick, the Berner Zeitung for example enthusiastically writes: “Art history from a dog’s point of view: that too is an exceptional cultural history which is more than an inventory of the approximately 350 important paintings. For the enthusiastic research of the author shows just how surprisingly often we as observers have overlooked this special motif which sometimes turns up only incidentally and other times is a central theme. Some are nature studies, and some are declarations of love for loyal companions, and others are even highly symbolic depictions which the author examines and analyzes precisely. And at the same time she underlines the important role of the dog in society. Not surprisingly, dogs can also be found in self portraits, for it is no different for the artists than it is for any other dog lover: the dog is simply member of the family.”

And if it is a member of the family, it should be immortalised: “While photographs fade with time, a high quality oil painting will retain the same charm it had on the day it was painted. Perfect in every detail, the photo-realistic dog pictures are painted on the finest portrait canvass using non-fading oil paints.” Under the header “Your Pet’s Soul Immortalized in an Oil Painting” the following is also promised: “After talking with you to learn more about the personality of your four-legged friend, I am able to symbolically portray their character traits, special fondness etc. in a painting.”

Roland Kodritsch could probably do this too. But he doesn’t. Instead he paints Bastards. The dogs look us straight in the face, slightly insulted and offended. As if it was our fault that they look the way they do. But it isn’t our fault. It is the appearance and character of their masters that is being reflected here. The Bastards are not as noble as the dogs on Tizian’s ruler portraits, nor do they reside on the fringes of society like the mongrels that accompany the baskers and bandsmen of Picasso’s Pink Period. We come across these masters every day. In the subway, waiting in line at the supermarket, on the Danube Island. They are the true subjects of Kodritsch’s portraits. And he makes his portraits with the attitude and insight of a painter who wisely professed his true self with the title of his 2006 catalogue: “Ich bin ein Idiot” (I am an Idiot). This insight sets a conciliatory tone and shows how Kodritsch and his work in a wide variety of diverse media are to be understood: personal and direct, mistrusting of perfection, a “sloppy realism” as he calls it.

With his series Bastards, Kodritsch isn’t discovering the dog for the first time. Leafing through earlier catalogues you will come across Blondie and Blondie II (2004, 2005) for example, which already hint at Bastards with their blond wigs. In 2006 he created the impressive Ahnenbild II, which in attitude and mimicry both hinted at and questioned its historical forefathers. And it is certainly more than a coincidence that this particular newspaper article and this photograph inspired him to create the painting entitled: “Letzte Ehre für den Helden auf vier Pfoten” (Final Honour for the Hero on Four Paws). David Lim, dog trainer for the New York Police, pays his final respects along with his colleagues to his Labrador Retriever Sirius, the only dog to lose its life in the attack on the World Trade Center. He was given the same honours as the police officers who also lost their lives. This painting from 2003 also clearly shows just how close comedy and tragedy often reside in the work of Kodritsch.