When Laurence King asked us to review The Book of the Dog, Dogs in Art by Angus Hyland we thought who better to review a book about dogs than Conor Stevens, the copy-writing half of creative partnership Mr&Mrs Stevens and one of the founders of The Doggie Do, Ireland’s first festival of Dog.
This wonderful book comes prefaced with an equally wonderful verse by D.H. Lawrence, – “Nothing but love has made the dog lose his wild freedom, to become the servant of man.” It becomes apparent too, upon the most cursory examination, that nothing but love for dogs themselves is responsible for the existence of this book. This fine collection of Dogs in Art is the brainchild of Angus Hyland, design director of Pentagram London (and speaker at OFFSET 2015). Mr Hyland also edits (or should I say curates) the collection, in addition to designing. The man has a good eye to go with his impeccable good taste.
This is not necessarily a book for the dog people, neither is it merely an exercise in fine print. This is a little book that will follow you around the house, nudging the back of your knee, demanding your attention. All canine life is on display here, from austere neo-classical renderings of elegant greyhounds, through straight-faced Edwardian portraiture and on to the hyper-realism of Elena Kolotusha’s Irish Wolfhound, 2008. Personal favourites include Lucian Freud’s Double Portrait, 1985/6, Kay McDonagh’s exquisitely expressive True to You and 2014 Sueellen Ross’ affectionate Subtle Hint 2004. The work is beautifully reproduced throughout.
There is nothing precious about the production either – this is no haughty, pure-bred Phaidon tome to be laid supine on your Noguchi coffee table, it’s a handsome mongrel that deserves to be thumbed through. Rarer still for an ‘art book’ is the wit and concision of Kendra Wilson’s writing. Her pithy observations on the characteristics of different breeds deserve to be collected in their own right – her ‘interior monologue of a Jack Russell’ (WHAT?WHERE?WHO?WHEN?WHY?) is a particular delight.
There exists among some anthropologists the contention that dogs played a part in civilising us, that when those first wolves chose to guard our flocks in return for food, we were no longer required to exist as nomads. This stability (eventually) allowed our minds to turn to higher things than eating and rutting. To art, for example. No dogs, no renaissance, no Bodoni Roman.
True or not, it’s an attractive thesis. So, as you stoop to bag your little treasure’s latest leaving, here’s a thought – you are just paying a pittance toward a debt incurred many millennia ago.
The Book of the Dog can be purchased online through Laurence King here.
Thanks to Conor for reviewing the book.
Words by Conor Stevens
Photos by Lauren Pritchard