Doggos, Fluffers, and Puppers, Oh My! See Why Dogs Are an Artist’s Best Friend, Too
The High Museum’s new Maira Kalman exhibition is a dog lover’s dream.
By Katie Domurat, Coordinator of Museum Interpretation, High Museum of Art
This summer the High Museum of Art brings you the exhibition The Pursuit of Everything: Maira Kalman’s Books for Children (on view through Sept. 15, 2019), which covers the 30-year history of Kalman’s career as an author and illustrator.
See her colorful, clever illustrations at the High, and then watch them come to life in Max Makes a Million, a world premiere play by the Alliance Theatre based on Kalman’s work (catch the play through July 21, 2019). The play follows beat-poet dog Max Stravinsky (whom you’ll meet below) on his quest to make it to Paris.
Kalman’s love for the small and silly things in life is evident throughout her many children’s books. One of her most loved recurring themes is dogs. Dogs show up in most of her artworks, and they’re everywhere in our exhibition too!
Reader Challenge: Do you have a dog you love to draw or paint? Post your best doggy artworks on Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #MyDogMuse and tag the High Museum of Art. We’ll share our favorites and tag you!
The two top dogs you’ll encounter in Kalman’s books are Pete and Max.
First, we have Pete.
Pete, a Wheaten Terrier, was the Kalman family’s pet dog. Pete was known for eating many of the Kalmans’ things, so Kalman wrote a book in 2001 called What Pete Ate from A–Z (Really!). This alphabet book showcases the wide array of things Pete consumed. Pete went on to serve as a main character in some of Kalman’s other books.
On the other hand, Max Stravinsky is not a dog based on a real-life canine companion but a fictional one.
Kalman created Max as her alter ego in dog form. He’s the main character in four of Kalman’s books, a winsome poet who travels and ponders the world. It’s interesting that when Kalman conceptualized her alter ego, she chose to portray herself as a dog rather than a human. It shows how much she loves and relates to dogs.
In an interview on GPB Radio’s “On Second Thought,” Kalman described Max as a “beagle-y kind of dog that wears an askew hat and a brown coat. And in a way, he’s me — he’s a wanderer and a wonderer. He travels around and makes poems and meets people, and a lot of the people that he meets in my book were actual people.”
Like Kalman, many other artists have used their love for their doggos as a source of inspiration. For example, famed Pop artist Andy Warhol grew up with both cats and dogs. During the 1970s he became owner to a Dachshund named Archie who would change Warhol’s life.
Archie quickly became a constant companion to Warhol and attended interviews, art openings, and luncheons by his side. As his love for Archie grew, Warhol decided to adopt another Dachshund in 1976, and named him Amos. In that same year, Warhol produced a series of cat and dog artworks. Archie and Amos are both depicted in this series.
Frida Kahlo was another artist deeply inspired by her menagerie of pets. Kahlo was in a tragic bus accident early in her life, and her injuries made it impossible for her to have children. To bring more love into her life, Kahlo kept many animals in her home, called the “Casa Azul” (or blue house), including hairless dogs, monkeys, deer, and birds. She kept multiple Xoloitzcuintli dogs at a time. The Xolo is a breed of hairless dog with a long lineage dating back 3,000 years to the time of the Aztecs.
Kahlo was proud of her Meso-American heritage, and she liked that these dogs came from the same background. One her favorite dogs was named Señor Xolotl; he can be seen sleeping in the corner of Kahlo’s painting The Love Embrace of the Universe. Of Kahlo’s surviving works, there are 55 self-portraits that include one or more of her pets.
Dogs and other kinds of pets are known for the special comfort and companionship they provide to their owners. As you can see, they also serve as artistic muses.
Do you have a beloved pet? How does your pet add to your life or inspire you? Let us know in the comments below!