Museum of the Southwest

Midland, TX



Michael McWillie: Painting

September 9 - October 24,1999


Michael McWillie's (b. 1950) paintings filled with reoccurring dogs are fun, whimsical, expressive works. He showcases the notion of what animals might think or perceive. His compositions, using various breeds, are like storyboards the tell their tale with color and shape. McWillie, who lives in Texas, has exhibited throughout the U.S.

"Michael McWillie paints dogs, lovingly, rambunctiously, curiously. Individually and in pairs, McWillie's dogs embody both the mystery and the wackiness that make dogs such compelling domestic partners. The dogs which the artist depicts, like those we have known, possess a kind of humanity deep within their undeniable doginess.

Humor, both in blatant hijinx and in subtle observation, is an essential part of McWillie's work. The dogs become characters, displaying a kind of avid sociability, in matched or mismatched pairs. These saucer-eyed buddies pose side by side against a bright blue Caribbean sky or in a London fog. Like the detectives or mobsters in a 1940's film noir, we often find them, with glowing cigars slack in their mouths, in the genre's typical settings: late at night, in front of a lurid neon sign or on an empty street.

McWillie's multi-sectioned paintings bring together all of his favored motifs in a grid of cinematic stills. Here we find the Scotties and Bulldogs mugging for the camera, with close-ups of faces, cigars, matches, and fire hydrants. In addition, there is a recurring image of the "Bone Factory", topped by a red neon bone. This final image puts a scare into the hilarity. With its intimation of death, it gives the dog's popping eyes an edge of existential anxiety. It is this hint of the dark night of the soul, along with the paintings' raw cartoon-like vigor, which connects McWillie's paintings with the late work of Philip Guston.

A number of images of Dalmations offer a quieter take on a dog's life. These images of dogs lounging in fog or on ice capture a kind of baleful moodiness that seems quite human. In one Dalmation's profile head, haloed in moonlight against a starry sky, we are offered hope that the spiritual might exist both in the consciousness of dogs, and in ourselves." By John Mendelsohn, New York City, 1998

Images from top to bottom: Just When You Thought, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches; 2 AM at the Bone Factory, 1997, oil pastel on paper, 18 x 24 inches; Two Scots Celebrating, 1997, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches.

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