Native American artist Chaz John (Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska / Mississippi Band Choctaw) loves his two-year-old dog Eddie. When Eddie came into John’s life one year ago, he was very skinny and had what John describes as ‘weird behavior issues.’
“He was a rez dog,” explains John. The term “rez dog,” or reservation dog, refers to an outdoor, stray and feral dog living on Native American reservations in the U.S. and Canada. “He took well to me but he doesn’t like other people or other dogs.”
John has become fascinated with rez dogs and has fantasies of them running through galleries that display his work. Rez dogs are the stars of John’s new show of drawings and paintings at Ellsworth Gallery that opens on August 10.
A student at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 2006 through 2009, John does a wide variety of still life and portraiture. Rez dogs have been capturing his attention since last year.
“These dogs live between two worlds, which is a symbol of life on the reservation,” John explains. “They’re in between the wild and human civilization. They’re bred for survival.”
Modeling his latest work after Victorian era portrait paintings, in which clean and dignified-looking dogs were portrayed in elegant environments or hunting rabbits, John has created a series of drawings and paintings with Eddie and other rez dogs in similar, but contemporary, positions.
Instead of eyeing the choicest cut of steak, however, John’s dogs drool over spam. French bread in Victorian era scenes is replaced with fry bread. “In this work, rez dogs occupy spaces they never used to belong to,” John adds.
Tipping his artistic hat to the dogs, John used a palette filled with the colors best seen by dogs to create this body of work. He’s even being sure that his drawings and paintings are hung low on the walls so dogs visiting the gallery can see them.