The stuffy and exacting international United Kennel Club standards stipulate that poodles must be made of solid colours. “Coat colour is solid and even,” they demand. This rules out Brooklyn-based artist Susumu Kamijo’s borderline abstract poodle drawings, with their uneven patterns and textures. Besides, the club’s list of allowable colours, while extensive—apricot, black, blue, cream, grey, silver, white, red, silver, beige, and all shades of brown—still doesn’t cover all of Kamijo’s bright and lively palette, uncommon in the natural world, let alone the poodle world. Even if a generous judge was willing to turn a blind eye on that point, the club’s call for a “harsh, dense, curly coat” probably wouldn’t extend to a coat of pastel, pencil, and oil pastel on paper.
That’s not to say that Kamijo’s poodles aren’t best in show since debuting in 2016. The pack returns to Marvin Gardens in Queens with a second solo exhibition, Lick Me Till Dawn, being held concurrently at Jack Hanley Gallery in the Lower East Side.
The artist’s dedication to the poodle is matched only by the dedication of his poodle, a black, four-year-old toy poodle named Kuro. Kamijo is quick to point out that Kuro isn’t the reason he paints poodles. “I like her as my companion,” he explains. “She’s just my friend. For me, it’s more about shapes and colours and composition. I don’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, there’s a cute dog just hanging on the wall,’ but I want people to keep looking at it for as long as they can. The image of the poodle for me is a gateway to something deeper.”
The result may not be a pedigree per se, but this natural and non-prescriptive approach enables Kamijo to better pursue his artistic considerations. Sticking to rules would remove the flexibility needed every step of the way to create a drawing that works as a drawing. Every minor detail must be tweaked and refined and sometimes completely overhauled, occasionally multiple times, to make a whole that coheres. While they may not meet the United Kennel Club requirements for colour and coat, Kamijo’s poodles end up echoing the club standards for a poodle’s trotting gait: “effortless, smooth, powerful, and well-coordinated”.
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