In the world of art, it’s unusual for paintings and puppies to form a symbiotic relationship. But that’s just what happens in Yvonne Dagger’s world, as she often combines her dual passions for assistance dogs and for art. Dagger’s animals go beyond the usual, considering that she trains puppies to be companions for the handicapped. Her dog portraits express and extend her love of her canine friends, evoking a personality that reaches from the canvas to the viewer.
While Dagger’s images include other subjects besides pets, they all share common traits of attention to detail and a tangible personality. Yes, even the still lifes have a demeanor. Most of all, Dagger’s images suggest an emotional and intimate response to life that stays with the viewer for a very long time (especially those who have taken in the fun of HarborFrost in Sag Harbor, in this particular case).
Why the black dog in the cover image?
That’s my dog, named Dagger. He’s the puppy I’m training for Canine Companions for Independence.
A good example about how you combine your dogs and your art subjects. What exactly is Canine Companions for Independence?
It’s a national, nonprofit organization that trains assistance dogs to service people who are not blind. The dogs are taught to open and close doors, put bed covers over children who have removed them during the night, tap the leg of a hearing-impaired person when the door bell rings, among other skills.
What’s your role? I know you are on the Board of Directors of the organization.
I take the puppy first, giving him a loving home, proper care, socialization. After a year and a half, the dog is ready to be matriculated and go into an advanced training program where he learns the skills I mentioned.
How would you characterize these dogs?
Instead of handicapped people (especially children) feeling like outcasts, they feel like they have a really “cool” dog.
Your involvement with dogs and your compassion extend to your painting.
Many times I’ll paint a pet who has passed away. The owner tells me about the pet’s life. The different brush stokes I use bring the pets alive. Sometimes I start to cry at my easel when I think of the pet’s life.
It’s fascinating to imagine where you got this talent. Is your family a source?
My father’s hobby was painting. My mother designed dresses for Lucille Ball, and my grandmother designed hats. I remember when my parents got me a box of oil paints, and that started my own painting.
How do you envision what you do in life?
Everyone has a place to be. You are where you should be. When you feel good where you are, that’s where you should be.
Yvonne Dagger displays works at her own gallery, “The Painted Pet by Yvonne Dagger” (Scoopy Doo Plaza, 175 Forest Ave., Locust Valley. 516-802-0215). She is also represented by the Fitzgerald Gallery (48 Main St., Westhampton Beach, 631-288-6419.)
Ed. note: Paintings by Rita Sklar, the Jan. 24, 2014 Dan’s Papers cover artist, can be seen at ritasklar.com.