The Art of James Mellick
IN THE DOGHOUSE ANTHOLOGY © James Mellick, 1997
The Canine Allegory Series of James Mellick
What does it mean to say "you're
in the doghouse now"? It means that you are in some sort of trouble because of some wrong you did or are suspected of doing. If a
dog urinates on the carpet or chews on the furniture, it falls out of grace with the master and is separated from the master's company
by going to the dog house for a while. A dog often knows when he has done wrong and may slink to the dog house in a self-imposed exile
to escape the master's anger.
When Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, they were "in the doghouse" and we have kept company
with dogs ever since the beginning of history.
At one time, before Yuppies and cats, dogs were the favorite companion of mankind.
While some cultures have dogs in their diet and other cultures find them a low and unclean animal, they have been man's best friend
throughout the development of Western civilization. The dog, as one of the first domesticated animals, is the "totem" animal for the
human species. Somewhere in this mutual friendship, dogs became parallels to ourselves. Not only do some dogs look like
their owners, but they take on their master's frailties, vices and neurosis. A mean person will end up with a mean dog. A loving person
will have a dog that is a loyal friend.
There are many things which happen in this world that do not make sense to me. I am an artist
with no power but the strength of my art, which like the pen, I hope is mightier than the sword. My art is some frail way of responding
to disturbing events of the world that are beyond my control or understanding. I create them as an effigy of the event, sort of votive
figures in the form of a question of "Why?" to God.
Often, when I'm creating a dog allegory, it is a documentation of an event which
has affected me emotionally. The sea dog with an otter on it's back was my response to the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez. Old Yeller
carrying a small bear in his mouth and running with his back on fire was my reaction to the burning of Yellow Stone National Park.
The Italian Greyhound with a glider strapped to his back was my statement about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The
"American She-Wolf" is a take off of the Remus and Romulus legend but it is reaction to a real event and speaks to children at risk
in general. The husband of a college friend abducted their two children and set fire to himself and the children on an exit ramp in
Tennessee. Most recently, the Turkish shepherd's dog with its belly full of human bodies, expressed my horror of the mass killings
and burials in Kosovo.
Sometimes the dog sculpture is humor and satire of human nature. "Pharaoh's Hound" with frogs riding on his
back speaks to the rationalization of risky behavior. "The General's Willie", George Patton's Bull Terrier, Willie, with army insignia,
wheels and Colt 45's strapped to his back is about an eccentric, military personality. "Cardinal Sins" is a small Italian Greyhound
with a drunken cardinal on it's back. The "Politically Incorrect Dog", is a muzzled and urinating Great Dane and speaks about "political
correctness" running amuck in higher education and to my experience of faculty search committees as a white, European male. The dog,
cat and bird totem titled "Pecking Order" speaks to institutional power structures. My very first dog allegory, "Stacking Dogs", 1985,
is a 12 foot high "Tower of Bow Wow" with seven dogs ranging in size from the Irish Wolfhound to the Chihuahua at the top. Like Bruegal's
"Blind leading the Blind", I'm poking a little fun at human arrogance. The dogs have blinders or no eyes and face in opposite directions.
It may be my idea of the effectiveness of decisions made by committee.
If one accepts the idea that sculpture which shares the viewer's space, is something with which to live, the dog allegory is very
much a companion sculpture suited to the home space. When caught out of the corner of the eye, they have the effect of real presence.
For a moment they are perceived to be a real dog. Even real dogs, who respond visually to the silhouette and posture for a moment,
think they are real and will strain at the leach to get to them.
In several instances, the dog allegories are given companions
or "fellow travelers" in the form of a secondary animal which may carry some meaning. There is some influence of Inuit masks where
there may be an animal, such as a salmon, attached. Birds, which carry their own symbolism have been employed most often in the composition
and allegory. They may be symbols of peace or "spirit guides" and the direction that they turn their heads or lift wings are considered
in the movement of the design. Cats and fish have also been used as companion animals.
What do the wood sculptures have in common
with art furniture? They are fabricated with similar wood working techniques, have a very fine finish and have four legs. The larger
market suggestion to make them functional by the use of a glass top has been resisted so far.
For composition, the curve that
a line takes in space or the gestured movement of the form, makes drawing fundamental to the sculptures' design. In the classical
tradition of the sculptural form, the movement of line, the pattern of repetition and variation, the play of light and dark, the contrast
of mass and void, the contrast and enhancement of representational carving against the pattern of woodworking and joinery, are conscious
considerations in the development of a working drawing which also serves as a template for the parts and angles of the sculpture.
The planning of the sculpture fabrication which is both additive and subtractive, is very much an engineering process at the design
stage. Serendipity and discovery which go beyond well-laid plans, takes place during the construction of the sculpture. The design
of each new sculpture, which builds upon what was technically learned before, often brings the challenge of a new design problem which
is solved during the process.
My intent in sculpture has always been to reach a unity of shape and content, so that the secondary
forms and shapes within the body of the dog not only serve as symbols of the meaning, but they are also important design elements
in the composition. The front and hind quarters of Pharaoh's Hound for example, are stylization of the lotus and the papyrus, ancient
symbols of upper and lower Egypt. The hind legs are composed of hieroglyphic shapes for King Tut. In the "Burning of Ol' Yeller",
the flames on the back of the dog visually complete an inverted triangle, a compositional method from the Renaissance. A flame completes
the missing part of the dog's ear. In "Before the Oil", the dog, with many curving Baroque lines, is to be an allegory of the ocean
and the tail and the ears have scalloped lines. Shells carved from white alabaster are applied as surface decorations. The upward
turned head of "Da Vinci's Dog" borrows from the dagger-tongue horse in Picasso's "Guernica". The undulating tongue suggests a yelp.
The Northern European breed of "The Politically Incorrect Dog" is a Great Dane. The Celtic cross carved like a deep brand into both
sides of the neck is done in the interlaced, Hiberno-Saxon style. The muzzle is wrapped in the same manner. It urinates to the left
while looking to the right.
Finally, even the selection of domestic hardwoods is conscious choice of color to match the breed
of dog. On occasion, I will use variations of color in the grain pattern to match the light and dark markings of the dog.