Contemporary Gallery

Curator: Eric Greene. See descriptions of each painting below.

Our historical gallery of paintings dating before WWII highlights a sentimentality regarding the affections between humans and other animal species. Within some circles, these were popular paintings, while in others they would have seemed quite radical (and are still seen as such to many today). Yet they show how meaningful connections between humans and other species are not new.

Since WWII, around the world there have been drastic changes: the expansion of cities and suburban sprawl, a growing human population demanding ever more resources, numerous technological breakthroughs, and a widespread shift to industrial agriculture which has usurped vast acreage, decimated forests and other ecosystems, and has been a major source of pollution. These developments have also altered and disrupted our interactions with wildlife, and the perception and subjugation of animals as resources and property became more prominent.

The art chosen for this Contemporary Gallery illustrates the complications, nuances, stories, emotional needs, and ultimately, the joys in remaining connected to other animals in various social and environmental settings. Each artist approaches this in a unique way, but together they convey something deep and remarkable about these connections that can easily be taken for granted. At at time when humans are causing massive extinctions and a climate crisis, and suffering from feelings of loneliness and isolation, this art reaches into our collective soul and helps us to imagine how we should move forward.

We are currently building this gallery, so be sure to visit us often (and sign up to keep posted of our progress). Paintings are presented in chronological order.

Norman Sunshine, The Messenger, 1995, and Possessions, 1996.

In the period of 1995-1997, acclaimed artist, Norman Sunshine, paints quiet moments shared by visitors to his home in Litchfield County, Connecticut. These are not typical sit-and-paint portraits; they are compositions that reveal the subtle interactions, attitudes, and sensibilities inherent in moments that are layered with meaning. The subjects appear deep in thought, or perhaps numb, as they meditate on something or nothing at all. The same is true for the two dogs featured in the paintings above. In the first painting entitled, The Messenger, we witness a moment after some news was shared, presumably by the man in a suit. Another man, bare-chested, embraces his dog while looking upon the back of a woman seated before him, whose face we alone can see. They are not happy. Yet in the midst of this charged moment, the bond between a human and his dog is tangible. It is the kind of embrace that keeps us in check, and helps us to ‘hold it together.’ In the trials, tribulations, and traumas of life, we comfort and are comforted by the animals in our lives.

In Possessions, a huge Russian Wolfhound is gently held by a middle-aged man whose hair is the same color as the dog’s. The painting challenges notions of what or who a possession is. Once again, a man holds a dog, and a woman, forlorn, appears to look inward. She holds a painting of a house in the countryside, as she stands in such a house. The man looks at us – we are there. A sense of nostalgia hangs in place of her painting, indeed, we posses memories that carry us through our lives. What happens when those memories are disrupted? Who can we turn to? Find The Messenger and other paintings on Sunshine’s Website. Possessions is featured in Sunshine’s book, The Book Of Norman: Norman Sunshine / A Life In Art.

Susannah Martin, My Black Dog, 2014, and The Day I Quit, 2014.

Look at this dog! Happy, free, and looking right at us! The dog, at home in Nature, leads. A young white woman and man tumble about, laughingly, trying to keep up. Naked and natural, time and culture are irrelevant and gender is of little import in their shared exuberance. In ‘The Day I Quit’ a young man plays with the dogs, eliciting a yearning for our own free-spirited animality where dogs are peers, playmates, family, and opportunities for self-discovery and expression. The pink and blue floating toys, the same color as flowers in the landscape, signal a virtual world.

Artist Statement:

“Something lives from longing in every human heart, return to its origin, after all alienation from God and from himself to find our way back to our eternal home.” – Felix Castles
“No representation of the nude in landscape in the 21st century can escape conveying our extreme estrangement from nature, intentional or not…yet it is indisputable, [people] gain strength, clarity and beauty when we contemplate [them] abstractly, as a phenomenon of nature…[With] the rise of the virtual world…we accept that realism now includes virtual realism, that is, it incorporates a high degree of improbability, a hyperbolic realism.” “To cope with the ever increasing virtual reality…they bring their dogs with them, the best friends of humans and their only remaining connection to nature.” Visit Martin’s Website.

Matthew Grabelsky, 66th Street, 2016, and Cadbury Bunnies, 2020.

Matthew Grabelsky is known for painting people with the heads of other animals, in New York City’s subway system. Inspired by hybrid beasts in folklore and myth throughout the world, Grabelsky explains his work as “plugging into this, some kind of a common idea that people have always had that’s something kind of central to our psychology.” He describes his choice of animal as revealing something about his subjects’ minds or character. As interviewer Michael Faith states, “their subconscious on full display.” Although Grabelsky engages popular stereotypes of animals (as depicted in mythologies), he also challenges them by depicting real people in relatable moments of everyday life. The animal faces, expressions, and postures are not those of iconic stereotypes, but rather they express simple moments in living. Still, the animal veneer reveals that there is still much more beneath the surface. As such, Grabelsky brilliantly connects us to the entire animal world, even in the subterranean setting of a subway.

Artist statement on Cadburry Bunnies: “This oil painting was a surprise gift for my amazing friend @natasha_das_art. It was inspired by her daughters. A few years ago Natasha posted a photo of them in matching white dresses hugging on the couch in their apartment. As a joke I texted her a quick sketch of them with bunny heads in that pose. Later on when I was thinking about new settings for my animal characters I realized that they would be perfect sitting like that under a tree in Central Park. It’s their favorite place and they spend hours every day there exploring, observing animals, and learning about nature.” Visit Grabelsky’s Website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s