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Artist of the Day: Mike Young

During Dress Your Walls month, I'll be introducing you to a new artist every weekday of the month with our Artist of the Day feature. Welcome to the first artist.

I'm always trying to look for affordable art for Casa readers, and a great place to peruse is the Etsy site. So, the other day, as I was randomly paging through paintings, I came across Mike Young's (aka Pequod's) Etsy store.
At first glance, his paintings sent me into mild hysterics, and at second glance, I realized that this guy had some killer talent—and a shrewd sense of humor. His paintings also remind me a little bit of William Wegman's weimaraners.

To read more about Mike and his paintings, just

Each painting on Mike's store and web site has an accompanying caption, which reads a bit like a biography of the pet in question. Taken as a whole, the effect is both wonderful and weird. And did I mention that a print of one of his oil paintings is only $18?

When I emailed Mike to ask him what type of home design/art enthusiast he saw as his ideal client, he said, "I guess it goes without saying that my ideal client would have to possess a kitschy sensibility and a pet. Beyond that, I don't really know. I think, beyond the kitsch, this client would have an appreciation for Northern European Renaissance paintings, to better direct the subject matter, or have an adventurous spirit when it comes to the manner in which the pet is depicted. One day I'd like to start working on allegorical paintings with pets as the protagonists. I'd really like to do a "Saint George Versus the Dragon" with someone's cat, or dog, or bird, or whatever. "Armored Cat on Horse Saves Dog in Dress from Giant Lizard," that would be my dream come true."

More of Mike's responses are below:

CasaSugar: I think the first question on our readers' minds is, How did you start painting animals in clothing?

Mike Young: Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. I know that the very first one that I did was for an illustration class (I don't remember the focus of the assignment) and it was of my dad's dog's head on the body of Ulysses Grant. I did it in a sepia hue to suggest a daguerreotype and ended up really liking it, so much so that it became one of those paintings that would always show up in my school portfolio, even two years later. It was kind of pathetic, really. But that painting had a certain something to it, that "something" probably being the fact that here was a dog's head on the body of a national hero. Needless to say, the idea always stuck with me and when one day, a couple of years after I graduated, some family friends asked me to paint a portrait of their son's cat for his birthday, I asked if they wouldn't mind if I anthropomorphized the cat and dress it up as a cowboy (Because, of course, that's the kind of stuff that I see when I close my eyes at night.) They liked the idea and their son seemed to like it even more when he got the present. Thus, the idea just got stronger reinforcement for the moment when I realized that San Francisco really, really needs another pet portrait painter.

CS: Did the captions come to you immediately? How do you develop them?

MY: The captions take a little bit of work, as I'm not one who takes easily to writing, but I don't obsess over them. Generally, I just jot down the first thing that comes to mind and see if I can make it funny or interesting. If I don't like the first one, I just keep writing until something sounds good to me. With some of the portraits, it's a little easier because there's already a story behind them, so I just try to elaborate on it and to evoke a sense of place. Ultimately, I just write the captions because I get a kick out of animals talking.

CS: What other subject areas do you work in (people heads on dog bodies, etc.)?

MY: Most of what I paint is figurative and tends to revolve around depicting people in odd milieus. But other than the pet portraits, I haven't painted that much recently. The largest body of work that I produced within the past couple of years was my portfolio to get into grad school. It's a "public and conceptual art" program and I had nothing in terms of a portfolio for that, aside from some stuff I'd done for one class that encouraged students to alter municipal and commercial signage, among other questionably legal things. So, a couple of years ago, in order to complete the required portfolio, I quit my job as a funeral director (another story altogether) and devoted my time to a series of postering projects and some illustration ideas that utilized people in online environments to help me complete paintings and drawings. I'm not being specific with what I did because it's boring and I don't really like what I did that much, but it got me into the MFA program, and that's what counts.

People have suggested that I make a simple switch in my pet paintings and start doing paintings of people's heads on their pets' bodies, but really, that's just creepy to me, too "Re-Animator." Obviously, I like oddball paintings, but there's something about a human head on a dog body that kind of freaks me out. Maybe it's the regressive aspect that it connotes. It probably doesn't help that I'm seriously afraid of werewolves.

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