Pets are people too

From the gentle nudge of a wet nose to kneading paws, a wagging tail or flapping wings; whether it be an enthusiastic bark, soothing purr or mimicking chirp, animals and their quirky behaviour can melt even the most hardened human. As we succumb to their charms, we are comforted with mutual respect, affection and shared domesticity. A new bond is formed that sees animals become pets; and inevitably, friend and family.

‘Pets are people too’ is an anthro-zoological study in the symbiotic relationship between humans and animals through the work of Catherine Bell, Matthew Gove, Bronwyn Hack, Kate James, Anastasia Klose, Noel McKenna, Tim McMonagle, Kathy Temin, and Jenny Watson. ‘The range of approaches by each artist demonstrates the intimacy of these relationships; from James’ memento mori sculptures and the celebratory yet unsettling pet tombs by Temin to the pathos and irony of McKenna’s ‘lost pet’ paintings and the humour of Gove’s anthropomorphised animals,’ says curator Joanna Bosse. ‘Each artist explores ideas around connection, companionship, respect, love and loss, their work serving to draw attention to the many philosophical questions around pet ‘ownership’ and the complexities of the human-animal relationship,’ she adds.

Gove humanises pets, giving them hobbies, careers and everyday chores just like their human counterparts; mice play cricket while smoking, cats indulge in a ‘purrrfect’ massage or read the newspaper while drinking tea. The secret lives of Gove’s anthropomorphised animals are parallel to their owner’s, a result of years of cohabitation and interdependency; consequently absorbing each other’s habits and traits, as seen in Couch potatoes (2019) which depicts the artist and his dog sitting together, blended as one.

Dogs are the subject of choice for Hack whose works show an interest in canines, domestic and wild. Her use of linear compositions creates flat, subtle forms while her application of gouache, ink and pastel allow for depth in an otherwise two-dimensional depiction. Minimal lines and faint abstract form, where background and subject almost merge are seen in works such as Big dog (2013) and Suzie’s dog (2015) in which the artist evokes a sense of quietude reflecting the affable nature between hound and owner. The bond between mother and child, in particular, pets as child-substitutes or ‘fur babies’ is explored by Bell. In her tapestries and video work, Bell has dressed her beloved dog Archibald in her baby clothes, tapping directly into the idea of the maternal instinct and alternative motherhood.

Matthew Gove, The cat reporter, 2015, gouache, 28 x 38.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Arts Project Australia, Melbourne

The works of James and Watson are autobiographical, reflecting their personal experiences and relationships with their equine companions. ‘They taught me patience, kindness and connection. They enriched my life with their beauty, strength and trust in me,’ proclaims James of her three horses. However, thantophobia fuels her artmaking as memento mori objects comprise her works in response to or preparation of the loss of her beloved solid-hoofed friends. For Watson, the horse’s image acts as a self-portrait, or mirror image. In He’ll be my mirror (2013), the female figure stares at her reflection created by the animal’s shiny flank. Here they are as one, forever bonded after years of interaction and routine, in unconditional love. Comparably, Temin’s synthetic fur sculptures or ‘pet tombs’ are a memorial to felines Tina and Nikki. Temin reflects on the concept of familial ties and incorporating human death and funeral rituals as part of the grieving and commemorative process concerning our adopted animal offspring and siblings. McMonagle also reflects on the delicate nature of life, death and decay. His parables of farm animals, with seductive undertones, correspond to human experiences of suffering, success and self-exploration.

Klose documents her psychological state through depictions of cats and dogs as symbols for emotional vulnerability. Some works are filled with exaggerated brushwork and intense colours, while others are toned down with light pencil strokes. Text-based works such as It’s normal to be on antidepressants (2017) describe the normalcy of taking the medication yet it is in the company of a dog that makes her feel better: ‘It’s OK’. McKenna shifts the focus from our own experiences to reveal the emotional importance of animals and their interactions with the human world. His works are like portraits; depicting his subjects in a reflective, solitary moment situated within a pared-back household or suburban setting; revealing the environmental and psychological effects of domesticating animals.

This exhibition shows us that by transmuting the status of these animals to a human level, we satisfy our therapeutic need to nurture, love and to be part of a pack yet not without consequence.

Bayside Gallery
Until 6 October 2019
Melbourne