Blog 3: The search for the pets in the dungeons continues... / 17 August 2012
Down in the Walker’s art dungeon’s we quickly decided to disqualify proud bloodstock and hunting hounds from pet status and my three investigators spread out through the cages flicking lights on and off in search of kittens and lapdogs, budgies and parrots. Golly, I’d accept a tortoise or even an ostrich if it looked tame.
When I was very much younger my family frequented a beetle-browed dentist - a quite terrifying man when his mouth-mask was raised – whose surgery walls were hung with just the kind of saccharine Victorian study that I’m now looking for. The one that’s really stuck in my eye, even 40 years after a particularly memorable molar removal, was of a couple of kittens fighting over a thread of wool (in a friendly way - no blood, obvs). I’m pretty sure that it was a Victorian original and not an ersatz dopey-eyed 70’s pastiche since the kittens didn’t look quite right, as though the artist had heard them described somewhere, like Durer’s rhinoceros or Sir Thomas Browne’s ‘boneless’ elephant.
Meanwhile, back in the cages, the haul of such painted pets was a little disappointing, truth told. There was one of a fluffy little Pekinese sniffing nose-to-nose with a horse, another of various mutt-species falling over each other orgiastically in a barnyard, a creepy painting of a cat snuggling up to (or preparing to scoff) a chicklet. But a version of what, to me, mentally conjures the Victorian sentiment most acutely, the ‘Kittens at Play with Wool’ study, there was none. (Yes, I know about Google image search).
I can’t say with any certainty where such speculation is leading me artistically, only that I’m fascinated by the notion that, as testified by the title of a painting by Frederick George Coffman in the Walker’s Victorian Gallery showing a horse’s head poked through a window to eat at table, animals had come to be considered by the Victorian age as ‘One of the Family’ (1880). It’s this hinterland between official human-family status and something other, some creaturely being that is tolerated only for acting cute and cuddlesome that tickles my crippled funny-bone, so I’ll keep pushing for a while yet. One of my regular collaborators, Simon Raven, is currently executing a series of pug-dogs (in oil on canvas like,) so I may have to saddle up the livery and head over to Camden (where he is the current ARMB Bursarist) in my two-by-four carriage to ask him for some elucidation on the subject.
Meantime, I’m dreading the axe-fall text to ‘El Sordo’: ‘can you help me to reach my little Trixy? I so much need to hear her purring in heaven. . . .’
Aaron Williamson’s book: ‘Performance/ Video/ Collaboration’ documenting his work between 2000-08, and an accompanying DVD ‘Quick Clips and Short Cuts’ are available through the Unbound on-line bookshop.