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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Porcine Art

Pigcasso, 2009, Liza Phoenix--urban porcine art.
Many years ago, probably around 1972, I painted my first pig. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it. The painting depicted a pristine, pinkish porker, primly posing upon a proper pedestal of purely Greek design. I called it Pig in the Parlor. If I recall, I may have been a senior in college at the time. In the ensuing years, I've rendered at least three additional paintings of pigs (below) though none now for more than twenty years. I used to think it was a means of thumbing my nose at the pandering pretentions of high art. Perhaps, but every single one of them sold. So much for that idea. In preparing to write about "pig painting" I discovered that a surprising number of artist now, and back then may have had similar thoughts. In fact, the city of Seattle even sponsors a charity competition among local artists who decorate fiberglass pigs to be anchored on downtown sidewalks for the amusement of passers by. Lisa Phoenix's 2009 entry, Pigcasso (above) is a colorful example.
Roughly twenty years of painted pigs.
Though I'd not realized it until lately, pigs have a long, colorful history in art. Scenes of wild boar hunting can be found on the walls of caves dating back tens of thousands of years. Paintings of animals, wild and domestic, have been a subject matter mainstay for centuries, though pigs have always been relegated to a spot near the bottom of the content hierarchy. As genre painting became popular in 17th-century European art, artists often left their studios, sketch pads in hand, and journeyed to outlying farms for their subject matter. Mostly they painted the human inhabitants, though we see them often interacting with the domesticated animals they raised for food, fun, and profit. George Morland's A Boy Looking into a Pig Sty (below), from 1794, is an early example from England.

A Boy Looking into a Pig Sty, 1794, George Morland
From this side of the Atlantic, we see an American genre painter whose work centered almost entirely around rural life and the workings of the early 19th-century farm. Below, William Sidney Mount's Ringing the Pig (Scene in a Long Island Farmyard), dates from 1842. It portrays very graphically the excitement and sheer physical finesse need to accomplish the task.

Ringing the Pig (Scene in a Long Island Farmyard), 1842, William Sidney Mount.
A generation or two later, another British artist, Joseph Crawhall III, painted Pigs at the Trough (below), which dates from 1884, in an Impressionist style. Most of his work was not very popular in that his chosen style, during the late 1800s had not yet "caught on." Most Impressionists, in their struggle for respectability in the art world at the time, would not likely have welcomed such lowly subject matter.

Pigs at the Trough, 1884, Joseph Crawhall III
Nearly a hundred yeas after Crawhall's attempt to popularize pigs, Impressionism had grown in popularity to the point of becoming passé. Pigs, too, had become more popular as we see in Jamie Wyeth's Portrait of a Pig (below) dating from 1970. Jamie Wyeth and I are about the same age. We both began painting pigs about the same time. When a member of the famed Wyeth clan begins painting pigs, you know they have "arrived."

Portrait of Pig, 1970, Jamie Wyeth
Let's face it, pigs are funny looking creatures. Daniel Eskridge plays upon this element of humor in his The Lost Pig (below). Seeking to evade rising flood waters, the unfortunate fellow finds himself perch precariously, stranded  upon a fallen tree. Though pigs can swim, this one seems not to realize that. From Brandywine to Folk Art, swine art may not always have been in good taste, but at least they taste good. I just had a bit for breakfast. Being such a mainstay of the rural diet here in America, now and in the past, it's little wonder pigs have found their way into our art. It's always been a sort of unwritten rule that artists paint what's important to them. Food is a basic necessity, thus it should come as no small surprise that the animals who provide it should be judged as important enough to be rendered in oils, fiberglass, and other art media. It's interesting to compare the similarities in the 19th-century Folk Art painting (bottom) to that of Wyeth's 20th-century image. One might go so far as to label the Folk Art version as being an abstract pig.

The Lost Pig, Daniel Eskridge

Antique American Folk Art "Baconator"

When Pigs Fly, Leah Saulnier.
I know I shouldn't stoop so low, but I couldn't resist.


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