Eric Ginsburg paints portraits of dogs. The New York-based artist’s humanistic approach to art has recently been honored with the Pet Portraits exhibition, curated in tandem with Dorfman Projects, which showcases his twist on the notion of the traditional Renaissance portrait. (Charitably, a percentage of all profits from the exhibition goes to benefit the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons.)
After the exhibition opened last week, I called up Eric to talk about his artwork. What became most apparent during our conversation was his natural love and enthusiasm for canine companions, whether talking about his own childhood dog, Skye, who kickstarted his pet portraiture career, or the way he attempts to capture the essence of the dogs he’s been commissioned to paint.
We chatted with Eric explaining his thoughtful take on the field of pet portraiture.
Dogster: When did you first begin painting portraits of dogs?
Eric Ginsburg: It was in college. I grew up with dogs my entire life; I feel that they’re always there for you no matter what. I was being asked to undertake a project about painting your childhood. My teacher at the time asked us to bring in a picture from our childhood and I brought in one of my dog, for some reason. That’s kinda how it started. Then I began to paint a bunch of dogs for people. Instead of painting people or buildings, I find dogs are so kind and so free and so loving. There’s something about them that makes me so happy.
Who was the childhood dog you painted?
Her name was Skye and she was a Corgi. She was just the sweetest dog in the world. I was happy with her and even now, if I’m having a moment, it still feels like she is with me. Sheer love is probably the best way I would put the feeling.
Has your style of painting changed much as you’ve developed as an artist?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know! I was looking at the new show and it’s kinda strange to me, like if you described to me when I first started that I’d be doing something on this scale — it can feel very strange. I like to think I capture the essence of the dog and the being and the soul of the dog when I see it, whatever the shape or form is.
Is it hard to keep the dogs looking dignified and not having them come across as too cartoonish or silly-looking?
I honestly don’t think about it. I’m not known for doing a totally accurate representation of a dog, but more in a sense of capturing the dog’s character — I’m not sure if that makes any sense, it’s just what people have told me. So I want them to be fun because I think dogs are fun and great, and I want people to smile when they see them and that’s my intention.
Usually I work off a photograph so it’s a case of looking at the photo and trying to capture the essence of the dog coming through to me from that. When I get a commission, the person who owns the dog also talks to me about them and their personality, so I think that comes through, too. There’s a fine line between being silly and curious — I think my paintings are serious, but they’re also light and I want you to be happy looking at them. Ultimately, I want people to see their dog in the painting.
I noticed a couple of paintings of cats on your website. What’s harder to paint, dogs or cats?
Cats are so much harder to paint! I’m not supposed to say that — I grew up as a dog person so it wasn’t until an art dealer asked me to work on a cat project that I really started painting cats. It was a growing period. Cats are great, too, and in many ways cats are more self-sufficient than dogs — I wonder if that makes them a little harder to paint. But I’m becoming more comfortable with cats as time goes on.
Have you experienced any snobbish reactions from the art world toward your work?
I have been so lucky. I was taken under the wing of artists throughout my career so while I’m sure I’ve had some strange reactions, I haven’t really noticed them. I’d ignore them if anything like that happened. Most of my work has been gallery commissions though — and all galleries should have a dog!
Finally, do you have a dog at the moment?
Yes, I have Darwin who is a Goldendoodle, and he’s really, really sweet. I see him and I think of Snuffleupagus — in a good way! He’s kinda crazy.
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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.