Born in Denmark, Gugger Petter studied art in Copenhagen, Rome, Mexico City and Belgium. Before coming to the United States, she lived in Mexico for 11 years. During that time she was saddened by the daily appearance of stray dogs roaming the country. Nothing was ever done to assist these dogs or stop the continuous flow of stray dogs. In 1994 Petter decided to pay tribute to them by creating sculptures in bronze and mixed media. Since then she has given further voice to these animals by including a dog in many of her large wall pieces depicting street scenes. In her new exhibit, “BARKING DOGS” opening at Jane Sauer Gallery Friday, August 20th, Petter further establishes her deep feelings for lost canines. Known for depicting truncated figures of both men and women in her scenes, for the first time she shows the dogs as the central characters, unaffected by the feet and legs of surrounding people or even of the viewer. In Petter’s work the dialogues are open; the viewer is not given the full picture and must complete the narrative on their own. When looking at “Woman with Barking Dog,” the viewer can almost hear the penetrating yelp. The viewer asks whether the others in the picture are disturbed by this invasion of their space or are they oblivious. In the process of establishing the story, the viewer becomes a participant. The mystery of unanswered questions is mesmerizing. The artist’s titles leave the door open for interpretation, giving no clues. In “Two Barking Dogs’’ two dogs appear to be barking, or is that a conversation with each other? The frame captures a snippet of daily life on the street. Two dogs encounter each other, become engaged in a variety of ways, most certainly some barking will take place.
Also included in the show are a series of small intimate portraits of dogs and female heads. One is taken back by the likeness and the equal handling of each. The dogs appear to be posing just like the women. They both gaze at the viewer and encourage eye contact. The women are silent and stately. The dogs are frisky and mouths are open with raw barks. The differences and likenesses are arresting and lead to the question of which is at the top of the hierarchy of living things.
Petter says of the personal importance of stray canines: “Since I have traveled around the world for many years, I can easily identify myself with “Stray Dogs.” That is to say: my depiction of dogs can be viewed as self-portraits, and the surrounding people represent society. A barking dog therefore represents my objection to society’s lack of care for its fellow inhabitants. My study for works of barking dogs was accomplished at the Marin County Guide Dogs for the Blind. Here I could go on weekends and find ample models from the 150 wonderful dogs - all barking and eager for their Monday training.”
Petter’s innovative and masterful use of newspaper is surprising and engaging. She states: “My fascination with newspaper consists not only of its being "the diary of our lives," it also presents me with a black/white/and a limited color palette, which has always been my choice.” Color from the Sunday comics section or advertisements, is woven into the black and white print from the newspaper. Sometimes she sparingly paints her newspaper canvas to embellish the picture plane. “My work is most often based on an oversized image of an observation of daily life, which can be seen as an abstraction as well as a representational image, where surface, subject matter, color and content all convey tension between opposites.”
Newspaper is a material normally thought of as fragile but through Petter’s manipulation, it becomes a very strong and solid material. The technique she employs is all of her own invention. She manipulates the paper into tightly rolled tubes which are then woven in a free fashion turning in various directions, much in the way a painter moves and builds a surface with brush strokes. The last step is to seal the entire surface with lacquers making the piece archival. Petter likes a certain degree of subtle mellowing of the colors that comes with aging and tries to encourage this process in her studio before sealing and letting the piece out in public.
About the importance of daily newspapers as a metaphor she says: “I find the informative aspect of newspaper quite important. Since each piece I create holds all the world/local news of that particular time frame, it becomes an historic piece within itself. All artists date their oeuvre with great importance - reflecting their moment in time. My works not only hold a date, they also represent a historic documentation of our lives. This information may not be of importance to the viewer, but for me each piece becomes a diary.” Petter uses newspapers that are current at the time she makes the piece.
Petter’s work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums both in Europe and in America, and her list of private collectors, permanent collections and commissions is extensive. Most recently she was invited by the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC to attend a luncheon with the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark during a state visit. Danish newspapers carried a flurry of images of Gugger Petter with the Crown Prince and Princess standing in front of a portrait of Barak Obama created by Petter which is hanging in the Embassy. A supporter of Obama had commissioned the piece during the Presidential campaign and it hung in the Obama Presidential headquarters in Chicago during the campaign. Currently it is on loan to the Danish Embassy.
Selected Permanent Collections
Arch. Marc Pariente, Mexico City, Mexico
Denver Art Museum
El Camino Hospital, Mountain View, California
Grupo Pliana, Mexico City, Mexico
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Biloxi, Mississippi
Industrias Polifil, Mexico City, Mexico
Kaiser Permanente Hospital, Redwood City, California
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Nordstron Department Store, Florida, Texas, Nevada,
.....California and Washington
Royal Danish Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico
Schubert & Reed, San Francisco, California
Southwest Bank, St. Louis, Missouri
Stanford Medical Center, Stanford, California
Textel, Mexico City, Mexico
The White House, Washington, DC
Young & Rubicam, San Francisco, California