In spite of which we find in the midst of the Black Paintings this poor perro:
– my favourite of them and, in its almost unbearable subtlety, the strangest. Incidentally, it’s also one of the supreme moments in Western European visual art. I say ‘moment’ because its effect is one of constant temporal recalibration: whenever I look at it – even now, typing this sentence, letting my eyes flicker between the image and the words – I don’t just think I’m looking at it for the first time; I feel time’s little snag, like a bee plucking at the air going by, as though the painting is itself a beat, the tock of a tick, an instant. This is in many ways the inverse of the classical ars longa/vita brevis formulation (‘The Dog’ does not occupy a serene zoological Arcadia, hanging out with Stubbs’ horses and Landseer’s bears) and yet its relentless newness assures its immortality anyway, mutability establishing itself as monument. Or, to put it another way, a superfine aesthetic invoking an atavistic sense of necessity: there is nothing naive about the painting, but if you squint it could have come from Lascaux.
The dog himself must surely be the doggiest dog that was ever painted. Look at him!! ❤
Turner, who came shortly after Goya, strikes me as the obvious association:
As a painting about velocity, this is a painting about time in a way ‘The Dog’ is not. ‘The Dog’ isn’t about anything more than a dog, and it’s not even particularly about that. ‘The Dog’ is a formal construction of three distinct volumes: foreground, background, intermediate dog (four volumes if we count the curious shadow to the right). ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’, by contrast, is an illustration; abstraction here is a means to an end, which is the protrayal of a phenomenon, ergo it is not really abstraction. We can recognise that Turner has very brilliantly evoked the passage of time but, unlike the Goya, the work begins and ends at that evocation. The abstraction of ‘The Dog’ is a – in a sense – senseless reduction from which the minutely-detailed dog’s head emerges as both an anchor and a drifting fugitive, a cur of figurativism lost in a new dispensation of line and colour for their own sake. But the locomotive in ‘Rain’ – Turner’s dog, essentially – is made to dissolve into the work, into the artist’s project, as an algebraic notation. ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’, for all its technical innovation, is still realism. ‘The Dog’ is I don’t know what but something much spookier and more serious.