They seem like little people stuck in dog bodies.
Ross Bleckner has been showing his work at the Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea since the early eighties. He lives with two dachshunds in New York’s TriBeCa for part of the year. The rest of the time he spends in East Hampton, in Truman Capote’s former house. As an art photographer, I met Ross in 1982, and discovered his love of dogs. He shared his home then with Rennie, a smart, lively mixed breed with long white-and-black hair. Rennie’s long coat was a practical problem, though. At the time, Ross used a heavy varnish on his canvases, which was a magnet for dog hair. After Rennie passed away, the decision was easy to get a dachshund; they do not shed.
Ross lived on Long Island as a child and was always fascinated by his neighbor’s dachshund, growing to love the breed. Now he has two dachshunds: Minnie, age 5 and Maria, just 10 months old. “They seem like little people stuck in dog bodies. They both understand what you say, they’re responsive to your mood and always know when you’re down and seem to want to cheer you up.”
Pets are a great emotional outlet, which is one reason Ross believes living with animals contributes to a happy and healthier life.
“Dachshunds are intelligent dogs and have definite personality traits, they can be a willful stubborn breed. Individually there are differences: Maria’s more dependent, more of a follower, more scared, while Minnie is independent and fearless.” They both enjoy playing ball, and when it’s time for sleep they burrow under the sheets with Ross. Neither is a reliable alarm clock, and they both sleep until Ross is ready to rise.
Painting is time-consuming and concentrated work, and it tests the patience of young Maria. Sometimes when she cannot gratify her need for Ross’s attention, she can be underfoot. Minnie has learned to entertain herself inside the studio; and outside–she is always eager to check the surroundings of the converted barn. The last time I went to Ross’s East Hampton home, a swallow had somehow made its way into the studio. This riveted the attention of the dogs, and their predatory stares revealed another side to their nature.
Repeatedly, the swallow tried to escape through closed windows. Since the ceilings are two stories high, we tried to coax the bird out of the barn door, but without success. As a bird lover, I was relieved to learn later that the swallow did eventually make his escape.
For many years, Ross has been an active leader in the struggle to find a cure for AIDS. His paintings have come to express the profound issues of loss and death. Black backgrounds absorb space in his paintings and contrast with iridescent light flowing from forms such as flowers, globes, chandeliers, and birds. His canvases are varnished to a high glossy finish to further intensify the quality of light. In his latest series, his paintings are dominated by cell-like patterns, which seem to move on the canvas in pulsating rhythms.
A passion for art and a meaningful cause for which to fight are an important part of Ross’s life. He balances the intensity of his work with his affection for animals, joining them in their enthusiasm and love of life.
Lucy Fremont, a photographer living in New York City, is working on a book exploring the connections between art and animals.