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Dancing With Hell Hounds
hounds, models for paintings, connection between the artist and model, personal history in painting, oil paint, canvas, symbols in painting, artist's gaze, being off-balance, hounds, overcoming predicament, model's gaze, viewer's gaze, model in the studio, photography and art-making, capturing body posture, human subject in painting, specific histories of models/subjects, symbol, allegory, allegories and symbol in painting, universals the collective experience of being human, being human, what it means to be human, transformation, renewal, personal transformation, illness recovery, depression, anxiety in painting, painting difficult life journeys, painting for clarity, painting to transmute fear to clarity, painting as healing, painting as alchemy, symbol, allegory,
description

Iris Hauser always works with models who are known to her: family members, friends or acquaintances. This connection between the artist and her models means that Hauser is able to bring elements of their personal history to her paintings.

start quoteYou can see that you're looking at the same things that people looked at 100 years ago or 200 years ago but you're seeing them now so you're seeing them through this lens of modern experience.end quote-- Iris Hauser

Besides working with a model in her studio, Hauser also often works with a photographer – usually her husband Zach – to capture the body posture and other details that are included in her final work. While her human subjects show Hauser’s interest in classical  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  techniques, to this she adds imaginative landscapes filled with wild animals,  symbolicAn image that stands for something else to convey meaning and information in an art work.  figures and architectural elements. Her paintings combine the specific histories of her subjects with references to symbols and allegories, giving those stories a more universal dimension, acknowledging the collective experience of what it means to be human.

Hauser’s works focus on periods of transformation, and ultimately of renewal, during a person’s life. For example, her paintings have included subjects such as her husband’s recovery from a chronic illness, her brother Leonard’s suffering from depression, and her sister Arlene’s anxieties within a troubled marriage. Such topics are off-limits for many artists, but Hauser believes that the journey toward maturity is often pain-filled and difficult.

“I paint these things,” Hauser says, “pouring out my blood and tears into images, icons that contain the pain, and transmute fear into clarity: a healing alchemy. Others come; they look, or look away. Some stay, their questions hesitant, delicate; I see their understanding; a bridge connects us; spidery ropes that keep us both safe.” (Moppett, 1999)

In Dancing With Hell Hounds, from the Mendel Art Gallery collection, we are confronted with an oddly-dressed male  figure1.  The form of a human, an animal or a thing; most often referring to an entire human form.  2.  A person of note (i.e., an important figure in history...)  placed in an intensely-coloured landscape, beset by two vicious-looking dogs. Two more hell hounds are just emerging from foliage on either side of the man. Two white birds (perhaps doves of peace?) circle overhead. It appears that they would like to land somewhere, but are prevented from doing so by the hounds below.

The male  figure1.  The form of a human, an animal or a thing; most often referring to an entire human form.  2.  A person of note (i.e., an important figure in history...)  in the painting, who may be Hauser’s brother Leonard, also requires close attention. His body is awkwardly positioned, off-balance and he is using a walking stick to keep himself from tumbling altogether. Wearing a top hat and with a Lone Ranger-type  maskA face covering. Usually it is something worn on the face, with openings for the eyes, to conceal one's identity, either for partying (as at a masquerade ball), to frighten or amuse (as at Halloween), for ritual, or for performance (as by dancers, or by actors in Greek, Roman, and Japanese theater.) It may be worn principally to protect the face (as a gas mask, or a hockey mask, or a physician's mask, etc.) It may also be any two- or three-dimensional representation of a face — as in the covering of an Egyptian mummy's face depicting the face of the deceased. A mask can be a mold of a person's face — a death mask if made after death, a life mask if made before it. Or, it may refer to an opaque edge or area placed between an image and a photosensitive surface to prevent its exposure to certain portions of the image. An example of this is a frisket. (Artlex.com)  obscuring most of his face, he looks out at the viewer with a gaze that tells us he is aware that we are looking at him and that we see his current situation.

Over his white shirt he wears an odd garment that seems to combine panels and strips of black and red cloth, imprinted in white with numbers, letters and symbols. While the walking stick in his right hand helps keep him upright, in his left hand the man holds a pink flower, another sign of peace, perhaps.

There is a strong sense of tension in Dancing With Hell Hounds. The hounds are obviously threatening, and while they circle menacingly, there are no signs that they have physically attacked the man. Although he is off-balance, he has enough composure to look out at the viewer, and the birds and the rose suggest he may yet overcome his present predicament and prevail.

additional resources Connection with Art
Duration: 2:07 min
Size: 9559kb
Dancing with Hell Hounds
Duration: 2:32 min
Size: 11095kb
Depicting Subjects
Duration: 1:57 min
Size: 8939kb
How She Started
Duration: 1:53 min
Size: 8804kb
How She Works
Duration: 2:07 min
Size: 9281kb
Things to Think About
  • Symbols are important elements in Hauser’s works. What do you think are the meanings of the top hat, the mask, the birds and the flower in Dancing With Hell Hounds?
  • Using thick paint and pulsating colours Hauser creates an exterior reality that also points to interior realities the viewer may not want to look at. Looking at Dancing With Hell Hounds, do you think Hauser’s view of humanity is optimistic or pessimistic?
  • Many artists would not use subjects such as depression or marital troubles in their works, and many family members would not permit their private lives to be displayed in this way. What are your thoughts on Hauser’s choice of  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter?
Advanced Activity

Suggestions on planning a  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  based on fiction or imagination

Starting ideas

Online Activity
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Imagine if Dancing with Hell Hounds was part of a movie. Create a moving picture in your mind.  Move the mouse over the image of the painting, focusing on various areas to imagine what the action would be.

Click on the moving circle areas to initiate the sounds you might hear if you were present in this painting.  Can you make all the sounds work at once?

 

Studio Activity

Interpreting meaning - and writing a story about the painting

Discuss with fellow students and teachers, or write down what you think Iris Hauser’s  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  Dancing with Hell Hounds represents. It is painted in a very realistic style, but it does not look like a realistic scene. Could the  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  represent a story or dream?  You might want to do some thinking or searching on the Internet for some ideas and decide for yourself. Write a story to accompany the painting.  Here are some clues to help you:

1.  Hell hounds

They exist in mythology. Magic or phantom dogs feature in cultural beliefs, mythological stories and folklore all over the world, but are especially prevalent in Celtic Britain and Norse stories. Often the dogs are black and hostile. Depending on the local area, if you saw a hell hound, it might be predicting death or a violent storm.  Hauser’s dogs look more like farm dogs with a coyote or wolf in the background, suggesting a Saskatchewan twist on the theme.  You can find links to information on these stories and ancient origins at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellhound

2.  The human figure

The human  figure1.  The form of a human, an animal or a thing; most often referring to an entire human form.  2.  A person of note (i.e., an important figure in history...)  in Dancing with Hell Hounds is wearing a strange outfit. Do you think he might also be related to a character in a story or fantasy, or could this picture suggest the psychological state, of a person going through difficulties or illness? In that case, what do you think the dogs represent?

3.  The Birds

Seagulls in some cultures represent the soul or spirits of the dead rising to heaven. They were thought to be able to communicate with the gods.

4.  The title

The title of this artwork includes the word dancing. As the phrase “hell hounds” suggests death, an interpretation of the entire title could suggest a situation where someone is taking great risks with their lifestyle or taking on a daring physical task by “dancing” with symbols of death.

 
Create illustrations of your interpretation

Make two illustrations of your own version of this  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  to see how you can interpret a theme in very different ways.

  • Create one image as a mythological or fantasy image.

Materials and  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  suggestions:

References

Anderson, Jack.  Body Language: Elsbeth Coop and Iris Hauser.  Exhibition catalogue.  Rosemont Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 2000.

Anderson, Jack.  ‘Gallery shows brave, personal explorations.’  Regina Leader-Post, January 17, 1998.

Anderson, Jack.  ‘The body as a means of discourse.’  Regina Leader-Post, September 1998.

Beatty, Greg.  ‘Figures of speech: Symbol and Metaphor.’  Regina Leader-Post, May 29, 1992.

Beatty, Greg.  ‘Worthy works wend way to McIntyre.’  Regina Leader-Post, August 7, 1992.

Moppett, George.  Iris Hauser: I and Thou.  Exhibition catalogue.  Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1999.

Robertson, Sheila.  ‘Artist sees self in terms of family relationships.’  Saskatoon Star Phoenix, May 15, 1999.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning