Man’s best friend is also a great subject. For artist Skip Hartzell, who came to be a full time artist later in his life, the act of making art is also one of benevolence. His dog art sells, and he donates part of every sale to dog shelters and rescue groups.
Skip Hartzell was an illustrator and art director in his 20s, then became head of an ad agency for 30 years. After selling his agency, he designed a luxury waterfront compound for him and his wife in Port St. Lucie that included a large studio, orchid garden, native plant landscaping, and a house meant to display his art.
Arriving behind several gates, Hatrzell greeted me with his “pack” in tow – 3 rescue dogs of various pedigrees, a Labradoodle, a Weimaraner and a Shepard mix. They dutifully follow Skip everywhere, with dog beds strewn about and dog doors built into the house and studio.
The studio is a marvel, with large glass doors and windows that look out to the water, high ceilings, well stocked tables with brushes, canvases, resins and other materials that make their way into his art.
And dog art is everywhere – piles of small sculptures on tables, larger hanging sculptures on the walls, paintings and drawings in various states of completion. He works on several pieces at once, moving about the studio to try a new technique or finish up a piece as it dries.
“I retired at age 62,” he says “and I have the great luxury of making art all the time and not needing to make any money from my art. I make dog art because I just love dogs though it’s really about painterly expression using their form. Dogs are always in the moment. Although nothing in life has held my attention longer or has been more fascinating to me than dogs, my work is about much more than that. It is about form, movement, color and texture. The dogs are a recognizable common denominator that allows me to communicate my joy of living, passions and sentiments. I don’t do dog portraits though which seems to confuse people. Every now and then someone will send me a picture and ask ‘Can you do a portrait of my dog Fluffy?’ and I say ‘No’, then a while later I finish another artwork and I’ll think hmm, that looks like Fluffy, but I won’t call the person and show it to them. I don’t collect other peoples art either, at this stage of the game it’s all about my own work for me.”
Indeed Skip Hartzell’s work is all that hangs in his magnificent house, custom built to showcase art with recessed and spot lighting, special indented wall spaces, very high ceilings in every room and plenty of cubes and open areas for sculptures. Large framed works on paper hang in the living room, dog sculptures arranged in groups sit–stay-good-boy in the corners.
The sculptures are partly abstract with lanky legs and floppy ears and body postures that tell shaggy dog stories. He has created his own kind of material, mixing resin and paper mache onto a wire frame then coating it with paints, clay, and wax until he achieves the surface he wants. He likes the surface to look “beat up”. When it’s finally done he stamps it with a small red heart as his signature.
Other works in the studio find Hartzell painting on cardboard or carving canine shapes out of enormous refrigerator sized blocks of Styrofoam. Self-portraits have been finding their way into his work alongside the dogs, Hartzell looming like an denim overall clad spectre.
He’s been at it since 2011, and got a major push with his first show at Paul Fisher Gallery in West Palm Beach. Priced low to sell, many pieces did, and the esteemed artist/curator/critic Bruce Helander penned a wagging good review in Huffington Post about the show. He wrote: “…this was one of the most “feel good” exhibitions in recent memory, where the passion of the artist and the love of dogs in unlimited configurations are joined in his paintings, works on paper and four-legged sculptures to make a fascinating presentation of pictures with an obvious aristocratic appearance and a recognizable common denominator.”
He has been featured in several publications as well, spotlighting his charity for the dog rescue organizations as well as his art and art-filled home, which at this point are an inseparable breed.
“I want to keep going with this and maybe work on a larger scale,” he says. “One of my goals is to have a museum show. I find inspiration right here everyday with my rescues.”
Skip Hartzell has several shows coming up this season:
*Palm Beach Cultural Council City Place Show in the former Restoration
Hardware space- November 8th thru March 2019
*Aqua Art Fair Miami, 1530 Collins Ave., Miami Beach – December 5 thru 9
*Art Palm Beach – Palm Beach Convention Center – January 16 thru 20
*The Box Gallery, 811 Belvedere Rd. WPB – March 2019
For more information about the artists’ work and exhibits, visit skiphartzell.com.
Skip Hartzell and the Dogma of Canine Art: For artist Skip Hartzell, the act of making art is also one of benevolence. And his dog art sells.