Candid Canines

Yuchengco Museum, Philippines・2018

There are many ways to read dogs. Dog lovers and whisperers can very well communicate with and comprehend dogs. Instance these occasions. When a dog tilts its head, it means the dog is curious.

When a dog scratches its ear, it means it is stressed. When a dog offers its back to a person with an eye of a whale, it means it’s asking for a space. When a dog is wiggly, it means it is overjoyed. And when a dog stretches to greet a person, it is actually saying: “Hello, I love you!”

Of all quadrupeds, dogs are the easiest to love. They are no doubt humankind’s best friends. They are fiercely loyal, affectionate, and absolutely cuddle-worth. More than that, they infuse cheer even into the dullest of moments.

The dog as subject matter in art has a long history. Its presence is felt as a fixture enjoying the luxuries of home, or straying in public places from streets to churches.

Dogs are handsomely documented in the works of Albrecht Dürer and Jan Van Eyck of the German and Northern European Renaissance to Jeff Koons in the modern contemporary world. In the local scene, they find social relevance in the works of Danny Dalena and young artist Juanito Torres, among others.

The fusion of jewellery making and animal figure sculpture is the just as old as history. The ‘leopard’ horse, being a symbol of prosperity and power, was depicted during the Tang Dynasty with the body clad in gilded filigree.

Doing animal forms is nothing new to Jing Turalba, having essayed a pig metallic figure sculpture way back. It started quite casually, almost as a natural course where an artist explores the capabilities of a chosen material to bring about the most wondrous and engaging results in art making.

Thus, Turalba confidently comes out of her studio to present in this exhibition an awesome caboodle of metallic dogs in a variety of sheen and colour, captured in a panoply of gestures and expressing a plethora of moods and other doggy dispositions.

The fifteen works in the collection with dimensions ranging from half a meter to a meter-and-a-half in length, finely display Turalba’s mastery of her medium, specifically the plasticity, if not adaptability, of bronze and copper as art materials. Of premium note to this exhibition is Turalba’s creativity to breathe fresh forms and outlooks harnessing what could have been junk materials, i.e., empty brass bullet shell casings.

The produce of this serendipitous journey yields to the for Turalba’s resolve in leaving no stone unturned in the altar of creative high. The dog idea is exhaustive and the parade of these cuddly forms simply engages. Using copper as a wrap for the canine’s body, turning to bronze for structural support, and celebrating the voluptuous form through a mosaic of bullet casings and copper wire, can only proceed from a mature artist who has done decisive and expansive research and production work.

Turalba captures the fullness of the cuddly canine figures and individualises them to reveal their quirks and habits that endear them to humankind. She expands the notion of full portraiture to assume the proportion of genre.

Some figures are flat on the floor, others are perked up in sitting position, all to situate dogs in their daily commerce with life, delineating moods from good and notso- good, to bad and not-so-bad.

Whether commemorating the dog in statue as memorial to the heroic service it rendered in the case of Balto, a sled Huskey dog who in a daring 1,000-mile journey from Anchorage, Alaska in winter braving blizzards and minus 40 degrees temperatures in 1925, brought life-saving medicine to the Hachiko, the Akita dog who accompanied his master a Tokyo University professor, on his way to work continue to wait for 10 years at the station after his adored master died, and who has today become some kind of folk hero not only in Japan but all over the world, the presence of dog as both image and form in art, as exquisitely delineated in Turalba’s Candid Canines, demonstrates fluently the immense and innate capacities of dogs to remain mankind’s best friends.

~Ruben DF Deo, Professor of Art History, Theory & Criticism College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines Diliman