Michelangelo, 2012 Oil on linen 15 × 10 inches
Michelangelo, 2012
Oil on linen 15 × 10 inches

This is a picture of our little dog Michelangelo, who is a toy poodle who was about two at the time I took this image to paint him by. I love this dog, who was a great companion to our older poodle Rosa, who has now passed away and was like a mom to him. We had mourned the loss of our Julian, a German Shepherd who had passed away from old age for about a year, before we could adopt another pet. I searched high and low for a place that wasn’t a puppy farm or some other egregious animal breeder, and came upon the gay couple who raised poodles not as breeders, but as a life-long hobby to show dogs and to have as pets from the president of the New Jersey Poodle Association who found out about us and told us of her friends. They had this little guy who was too little to show—he now is about only five pounds, and immediately we agreed to adopt him. After having a big dog in New York City we vowed "never again" for their sake, and Michelangelo is the perfect size for us and urban living—and loves it when we take him to the cabin where he can run around (under watchful eyes of his parents, who are on the constant lookout for Eagles and Owls and other creatures). He is a bit of a "type A personality" as he is quick to judge, react, bark, etc., but he is one of the most loving dogs of all time and covers you with kisses and loves nothing more to sit in your lap. He is my constant companion, and is usually my "artists assistant" as most of my paintings are created with his companionship, sitting in his place in my lap or the pocket of my sweatshirt as I paint. He is named of course after my favorite artist, which is funny and ironic as he is just a small silver guy, but really he is regal and has much of a canine genius intelligence that if he were human, would be very Michelangelo-esque! I love Van Gogh, and his grassy fields, which may have been on my mind while painting this (and his high, sometimes non-existent horizon lines, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints), but really it is more like visual emanata—the short staccato notes of brushstrokes emanate his personality, which is also like this. I have painted many dogs in my lifetime—I think they can be serious subject matter, and transcend the ages, and also anthropomorphized beasts that we can relate to in their animation, a la Snoopy. I had a painting of an angry poodle on display as part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for several years, and he was like an avatar of the Angry Young Gay Man I was in those years (in part). I’ve mellowed somewhat with age, and although Michelangelo and this portrait of him really is about this individual pooch, I also think it is part of a subtle identity politics gesture to hopefully paint more regal than merely cute paintings of my poodles, who while not strictly adherent to gay identity politics, can be a "code" of sorts when you see an adult man with one in the street (although of course there are many straight men who adore poodles, too!). This isn’t why I painted him, or any of my dogs, but would like to think in the public display of my pets that the personal is political, and like Manet, by painting my life I’m also painting my politics—all are fused into one, and the subject matter brings warmth and personal emotion to something (perhaps like to my more impersonal—of sorts—painting at LACMA) that otherwise would serve merely as a politic.