Paws or claws? Local artists decide!

Winner of the Bamford Medical Art Prize at Umbrella Studio's Members' Exhibition Seppo Hautaniemi with 'Family Choice' IMAGE: Susan Mattocks

Which are better? Cats or dogs?

Local artists have gone to bat for their respective sides at Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts’ annual members’ exhibition, Cats vs Dogs.

Umbrella has had some lofty themes for this exhibition in the past, but Kate O’Hara, Director of Umbrella, and her team chose a lighter theme this year inspired by banter between staff members – are dogs or cats better?

“After the challenges of our changing world over the last few years, we decided to have a bit of fun with the theme this year. We wanted to provide a bit of a reprieve from the weightiness of what we have all been enduring,” says Kate.

“That said, this is quite serious for me… I am firmly on the dog side of this provocation with all due respect to felines.”

Felines furever!

Representing the feline fanciers is local artist, Tony Fitzsimmons, a regular exhibitor in this annual exhibition. Tony’s entry is a portrait of a very fine looking ginger cat.

“My portrait of Pippin Andreassen was actually a commissioned work for some friends. I’ve met Pippin before and he’s a very nice cat so I was quite happy about the prospect of painting him,” says Tony.

“His owners have had him for… I shouldn’t say a cat has owners, they have attendants,” Tony laughs.

2022 Members’ Exhibition: Tony Fitzsimmons with his piece, Pippin Andreassen IMAGE: Susan Mattocks

“… but Pippin’s been in in their family for at least three years, so I’d obviously met him before, but as with any portrait commission, I try to get to know the subject, whether it’s an animal or a person. With an animal you can do some sketches when they’re resting and reposed but it’s nice to have them looking fairly alert, so inevitably you do end up working from photographs,” he says.

“They say when you’re doing a portrait of a person you know them fairly well by the time you’ve finished the portrait and I think much the same can be said of an animal. I definitely felt that I’d got to know the character of Pippin, so it was quite an enjoyable process.”

Tony Fitzsimmons, Pippin Andreassen, 2021, Oil on canvas on board, 43 x 33cm.
Pippin’s portrait clearly demonstrates his belief that, in fact, cats are far superior to dogs. Courtesy family Andreassen-Griffin.

Tony’s choice of medium

Tony’s painting was created using oil paint on canvas attached to a thin board.

“It’s quite a nice surface. It’s a bit firmer than just a stretched canvas which has some give to it. A canvas board is quite a solid surface which I think might have something to do with my drawing experience because when you’re drawing it’s generally on a hard surface… and so I do enjoy working on a canvas board,” says Tony.

It took Tony around four to five weeks to complete the portrait of Pippin.

“If you have a human subject you do a certain amount of work then, at a certain stage, you have a look at it with them and see what they think of it… not too many times, but a few times. So, I went through the same process with Pippin’s family and we made a few changes here and there. For instance, he was sitting on a favourite chest and so we put a little bit of that chest in the bottom of the work so his family would always know where he was at that particular time,” he says.

An important event for Townsville artists

Tony believes Umbrella’s members’ exhibition is a very important annual event in Townsville.

“Some members don’t like entering group exhibitions, and a solo exhibition is quite a big undertaking, so if you don’t have any exhibitions of your own throughout the year it’s a great opportunity to show your work in a fairly informal and friendly setting,” says Tony.

“It’s an opportunity for artists to put their own interpretation on the theme and I’m sure we’re going to see some very interesting work. I like Catherine’s, which is a great take on the theme,” he says.

Dog devotee Catherine!

Catherine Watt has also been a regular exhibitor in Umbrella’s members’ exhibition over the years and she particularly liked this year’s theme.

“I thought that Cats vs Dogs was a fun theme. It’s nice to have something that is light and fun. You can put your tongue in your cheek and do something a bit different!” Catherine laughs.

Catherine Watt, Gangster Queen Loves Dogs, especially Corgis, 2022, Acrylic, 43 x 53cm
Queen Elizabeth (RIP), like a gangster, using pink paint on a black graffitied London wall, makes her amendments. Dogs become Royal and Cats do not rule. Her guard allows her to do this in safety.

“Also having a theme can push you outside your usual artistic focus, which for me is landscapes and sea-scapes, as well as teaching art, so it’s something completely different.”

Catherine’s inspiration came during a recent overseas holiday.

“I was blessed enough to travel to London and be there a few days after the Queen had sadly passed away. I witnessed a lot of admiration for the Queen and then I saw a photo in a newspaper of members of the royal staff in their smart red jackets bringing the corgis out onto the pavement to honour the Queen. There was a strong image there of loyalty and dogs… and I liked that,” says Catherine.

“Then I went to a market in Greenwich and I saw a print of the Queen holding a bucket of paint. She’d written on a wall something like ‘God save the people’ and she had one of her loyal guards with her. I liked this image but I thought, ‘How am I going to make that go with cats and dogs?’ Then I remembered that photo I’d seen of the corgis with the staff members. The Queen is an icon of loyalty, not just to the people of Britain, but to people all around the world. So, I had all these really good icons of loyalty… the Queen, her guards and her corgis… it all kind of came together,” she says.

Catherine has a message for her cat-loving artist peers.

“Look, I respect you but I don’t agree with you. Cats are so hard to control. Can you imagine a cat in the palace? It would scratch everything up and try to sneak out the door to kill a squirrel,” Catherine laughs.

Catherine’s choice of medium

Catherine’s composition is acrylic paint on paper. 

“When you’re doing art, it kind of evolves. You have an idea but sometimes it just doesn’t work so you’ve got to keep playing until it does. I found on paper it was easier for me to do that. Paper just lends itself a bit better to that,” she says.

Yoga for the mind

On and off it took Catherine a couple of weeks to complete her painting.

“Art isn’t like doing maths. With maths you can come up with the right answer straight away if you have the right formula. Art isn’t like that. There are a lot of little interplays, so it can take longer than you think… but it’s so enjoyable. When you’re doing art you think of nothing else. It’s like yoga for the mind,” Catherine laughs.

Catherine Watt, Gangster Queen Loves Dogs, Especially Corgis
Wendy Hume, Get Your Claws Into Someone
Alison Macdiarmid, Eric
Lynn Scott-Cumming, The Kiss
ALL IMAGES: Susan Mattocks

A galvanising force

Like Tony, Catherine agrees that Umbrella’s members’ exhibition is very important.

“The exhibition galvanises people. It brings people together. Everyone’s painting towards a common theme and it’s so interesting to see how everyone interprets the theme differently. It’s really good to have something that encourages creativity and thinking outside the box. It gives me something to work towards and I look forward to it each year. I also like that it’s near Christmas, a fun time of the year!” says Catherine.


Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts’ Members Exhibition is on display until 18 December 2022.


This article was supported by the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a partnership between the Queensland Government and the Townsville City Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.

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