I am delighted to have sold “Koei 1509”, a painting of a South African cow, to a collector in Oxfordshire, England. The painting was based on a photograph by talented photographer Herman von Bon, who generously allowed me to use his image. Herman photographs the South African landscape along with its people and animals. I particular like his wildlife photography.
I like cows. I love all animals. I come from a family of animal lovers. I get pleasure from just looking at animals. I really enjoy painting them but I find it hard to part with my animal paintings.
Cows are the reason why I stopped eating meat a long time ago. When I was a post-graduate student at Cardiff University in the 1990s I spent a day cycling along the the flat marsh road that lies between Cardiff and Newport. It’s about 10 miles. On my way back, I stopped at a gate for a rest. I group of curious youngsters, Fresians, came up to gate to investigate me. They were cautious but seemed to egg each other on to come closer and stick out their noses to me. They amused me. I thought they were funny and sweet.
I stood for quite a while looking at them. Listening to them breathe. Cows have intelligent eyes. Big brown eyes. They weren’t essentially any different from the many animals my family had kept as pets over the years; cats, dogs and rabbits. Suddenly the thought came to me “I eat you and your friends”. I felt awful. Very guilty.
It felt very unnecessary. I don’t need to eat meat. So I decided to stop. I’d been thinking about for for some time. People sometimes ask why I am a vegetarian and I could mention things such as the cruelty of factory farming, the environmental cost but I have never felt comfortable eating sentient creatures. I always felt a hypocrite for eating Sunday roast, no matter how tasty it was.
Many of my university friends were veggies but I didn’t like many vegetables (potatoes and peas was about it for many years) and I wasn’t sure what I would eat. To be honest, I was lazy. I had to learn to cook vegetarian meals. I started with a lot of pesto and pasta. A friend of mine recommended a Rose Elliot cook book and I painstakingly read the recipes (there were no photos in the book) and I eventually learnt a few recipes off by heart. It was a bit of a slog but I felt much better for it, physically and mentally.
Although I don’t think that I paint cows all that often, they have added up over the years. I love Hereford cattle in particular. I was born in that English county and I love the russet red of their coats. You don’t see that many of them on Gower.
I seems to have painted Frisians the most – probably because I like the contrast of their black and white coats.
I never paint “generic” cows. These are all real cows. All individuals. I found Gower Cow on the slopes of Cefn Bryn at the Penmaen end. She was chewing the cud with a small group of friends.
The cow at Pwll Du was also with a group of friends, small herd I suppose, who came out of the undergrowth and started grazing on the grass by the stream at Pwll Du.
Writing this post got me thinking about the History of the cow in Art. There’s a lot to it so I have decided to save that for my next post.
To see available animal paintings click here
To see large mounted animal prints click here
This part two of photo-essay on great artists who have either painted their pets, or other people’s pets as a way of proving that pets are a proper subject for serious artists.
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had many pets and they frequently appeared in her biographical portraits. In the case of her deer she identified so closely with the creature she painted herself as a hunted deer.
Salvatore Dali had some strange pets and he used them for publicity (hence the anteater in Paris) as much as anything else. I don’t think he cared much for cats (see the amazing photo below) however, some dogs did feature in his surrealist paintings.
I was going to say that fellow Spaniard, Pablo Picasso, clearly did not like cats, either.
However, I suspect, Like many cat owners, he was ambivalent about cats’ hunting skill and their drive to kill, even when they are well fed. Perhaps that was why he was fascinated by a cat’s encounter with a lobster, which he painted several times. However, a number of much less vicious cats, kittens in fact, also appear in his paintings.
If we look at the photographic evidence it seems clear that Picasso clearly liked both cats and dogs. His absolute favourite dog was a Dachshund called, Lump. “Lump had an absolutely pampered life there. Picasso once said, ‘Lump, he’s not a dog, he’s not a little man, he’s somebody else.’ Picasso had many dogs, but Lump was the only one he took in his arms.”
And pampered Lump clearly was. He died ten days before Picasso, on 29 March 1973.
Talking of dachshunds. I love the Italian futurist Giacomo Ball’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, painted in 1912. Look at that tail go!
Ammerican pop artist, Andy Warhol was also a fan of dachshunds.
British painter David Hockney is also a massive fan of the short-legged pooches.
British painter, Lucien Freud was famously fond of dogs especially his pair of whippets whom he often painted.
American artist Andrew Wyeth painted a number of beautifully atmospheric paintings of his Labrador-type dog.
Time for some cat lovers, I think. Less well known, is the British artist Ruskin Spear who painted many wonderful pictures of his cats.
Another, lesser known British artist, Beryl Cook, painted some fabulously plump cats to go with her full-of-life people.
More cats and a lobster, only this time the lobster is outnumbered.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is another cat lover. He lives with about 40 of them in his Beijing home.
Swedish artist Benjamin Björklund paints very beautiful and atmospheric portraits of both humans and animals. He is interested in the emotional states of his subjects, whether they are his members or (his Great Dane), his pet rabbits, mice, rats, and guinea pigs, as well as the wild animals outside.
I’ll end with Jeff Koons. The American artist is known for working with popular culture subjects, and he has also used as dogs as subject matter in his work. “Balloon Dog (Orange)” sold for $58.4 million at Christie’s. ” Possibly, his reproductions of banal objects such as balloon dogs should prove that animals are an uncool subject matter?
And yet “Puppy” his installation of flower-filled a giant West Highland Terrier is pretty awesome. I think that it honestly doesn’t matter what you paint, cats, dogs, cows or people but how you approach your subject that matters.