Every Dog Has its Year

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 6, 2018.

Nasir’s Corgi in the Field, 2017, colour pencil on paper, 35 x 53 cm.

Yew Souf’s A playful day, 2015, charcoal on paper, 51 x 36 cm.

Alex Leong’s 9 Doggies, 2018, watercolour, 28 x 76 cm.

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The bond between humans and dogs is said to date back up to thirty thousand years, and no wonder. Ever since their early days of domestication, these loveable canines have only continued to prove their worth as man’s best friend, be it as police dogs, guide dogs, sled dogs, herding dogs or simply as furry companions around the house.

With the Year of the Dog just around the corner, canophilists have even more cause to rejoice this Chinese New Year. In celebration of this season, Tan Ee Lene, gallerist of The Art Gallery Penang and an avid dog lover herself, presents its latest exhibition.

“Cultural or artistic portrayals of dogs extend way back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when they were commonly portrayed in hunting scenes. They symbolised alertness, courage, love and loyalty. As dogs became more domesticated, they began serving as companions, often painted sitting next to their owner or on a lady’s lap,” said Tan.

This isn’t the first exhibition of its kind for The Art Gallery Penang. Year of the Dog 2018 is a revival of the annual Chinese zodiac-themed exhibitions from the gallery’s earliest years, the last of which was held in 1994 — incidentally also the Year of the Dog. 

The 2018 edition showcases works by 13 Malaysian artists and one Chinese artist. When the idea to organise this exhibition first sprouted, Tan’s first approached Choo Beng Teong from Penang and Choh Kiat Siong from Kedah. Although the former usually drew birds, she recalled having also seen works depicting dogs.

“I looked for artists who had experience drawing animals and who are dog lovers themselves,” said Tan, “With the exception of six paintings, most of the artworks were created especially for this exhibition.”

Returning is artist Wang Xiao Ling from Chengdu, China. Having also been featured in the 1994 exhibition, this time Wang presents his ink paintings of the Shih Tzu, a breed nicknamed “xi shi” in China, after one of ancient Chinese history’s greatest beauties. Another notable participant to look out for is wildlife artist Nasir Nadzir.

In true Malaysian fashion, the exhibition embraces diversity, featuring an array of dog breeds across the artworks. The classic favourites, namely the Chihuahua, beagle and golden retriever, are clearly the stars of the show, dominating roughly a third of the display between them. One piece that highlights the diversity of the featured dogs is Alex Leong Yim Kuan’s 9 Doggies, featuring nine wide-eyed puppies of different breeds in an arrangement somewhat similar to those of family portraits.

Variety is also seen across the styles and materials used by the artists. Besides watercolours and oil paintings, as seen in Koay Shao Peng’s Daschund and Jeremy Lee Mun Loong’s Anticipating Reunion. There are also several drawings completed with ballpoint pen, such as Ethan Ng Horng Guan’s Play With Me 01, and works of pencil on wood by Mandy Wee Yee Yong.

To Tan, the exhibition is a labour of love that goes beyond collecting artworks. She aims to highlight the cherished bond of a pet and its owner. This is seen particularly in Tang Yeok Khang’s Rain or Shine, depicting the artist’s own children bonding with their poodles. “I hope that through this exhibition, people are reminded of how much joy a dog can bring into our lives,” she said. “They are innocent animals and deserve protection from cruelty.

“Rarely is there anything in life that is more pure and simple than a dog’s love. It is like your child, your friend, your companion and protector. It will be yours faithful and true forever,” Tan concluded.

Year of the Dog 2018 is on at The Art Gallery Penang at 368-4-8 Burma Road, Bellisa Row, Pulau Tikus, until Feb 25 (closed from Feb 15 to 20 for Chinese New Year). For more details, visit www. theartgallerypg.com