Spend some time gazing at Raychael Stine’s paintings and you might discover a snout, a floppy ear or a pink tongue.
“Most people don’t notice initially, but all of my paintings are dog portraits,” she said. “You have to sit with them for a while.”
The University of New Mexico assistant professor of art has made a career of canines cryptically inserted into seemingly abstract expressionist paintings.
Thick slices of paint move swiftly across her canvases in rich colors. A rose or a shadow might creep in. The dogs emerge in a flurry of movement. They’re clumsy, bashful and ravenous, racing through ribbons of spastic, active paint.
Everybody warned Stine not to paint dogs if she wanted to be taken seriously as an artist.
“I’ve had people get really mad about it,” she said. They’ll say, “It’s so great to see these abstract
paintings dealing with form and color.”
Informed of more than abstraction on her canvas, some viewers try to argue with her.
“Then they say to the effect of, ‘You just ruined it for me’,” she said.
Born near Cleveland, Ohio, Stine grew up in a family with hunting dogs.
“It was dog land,” she said. “I just felt really connected to them. I always say dogs helped me to be an empathic and caring person.”
At home, she lives with two canines: one is “the longest dachshund you’ve ever seen;” the other is a chihuahua. Both are rescue animals.
Her “Ophelia” series was inspired by the famous painting of Hamlet’s spurned and drowned lover by John Everett Millais, ca. 1851.
“It’s basically a garden dog laying in a box in a river,” she said. “They’re not really about the story of Ophelia in the river. I was more interested in the idea that the dogs would be in this space or dream space.”
Literature also inspires her, especially books such as “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “Black Shuck” and the Greek myths of dogs ushering humans into the gates of heaven.
Stine uses both acrylic and oil paints, juggling them with two palettes. She dips her acrylics from plastic apple holders recycled from Costco. Each paint type serves its own purpose, she explains.
“The acrylic does mushy, sloshy, brushy kind of work. The oil works pretty well to do softly rendered light gradients.”
She lifts color from light, rainbows, water vapor reflections and screen glows.
She loves the paintings of the late abstractionist Howard Hodgkin and contemporary artist Ellen Berkenblit.
“I’ve always loved Goya,” she added, “I like Henri Rousseau. My favorite New Mexico painter is Victor Higgins.” Stine has shown her work in Albuquerque’s Richard Levy Gallery, as well as the Eugene Binder Gallery in Marfa, Texas. The Levy Gallery gave Stine a solo show.
“She is a wizard with paint,” gallery director Viviette Hunt said. Hunt was busy packing Stine’s work for display at the prestigious international Art Basel show in Miami.
“She demonstrates such a broad range of skills as both a realist and an abstractionist,” Hunt said. “I can’t resist that and collectors appreciate it.”
Not all visitors can decipher the dog motifs within the vibrant slashes of color and form. But the paintings draw interest beyond any kind of “Find Waldo” factor.
“It wasn’t like a game,” Hunt said. “They’re so much about painting that the whole dog thing becomes secondary.
“At first, you look at it and it reads as an abstract painting. Then you notice these abstract shapes are defined by light and shadow. You connect to it.”