Art for animals' sake

Mary MacKay
Published on September 27, 2010

In the capable hands of Peter Griffin, a picture is worth a thousand arf-arfs, meow-meows or tweet-tweets.

That’s because this life-long artist, who now lives in Rice Point, has made it part of his artistic business to paint portraits of pets of all kinds to delight their owners.

“I do a lot of portraitures. You’d be surprised at the types of things that people will ask you to do a portrait of, obviously themselves, but of boats and some of the most interesting things. But pet portraiture was something I really enjoyed,” says Griffin, who is donating a future piece of a pet of a person’s choosing as a prize for the third annual SpayAid Art for Animals Dinner and Auction on Sat. Oct. 2 at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.

This event, which will feature art by other Island artists, will also include local crafts, gift certificates and other items.

At the start of his career, Griffin studied at the Ontario College of Art, Sheridan and other schools in Ottawa where he was based until recently.

“I’ve been doing (art) in different forms for a little over 35 years. . . ,” he says of his vast array of disciplines that include sculpture, illustrations, painting, design and more.

“I have a narrative style. I’m a realist. I also have an illustrative style as well. My style is always evolving (so) it allows me to be constantly working in different styles which keeps me happy. It keeps me fresh.”

Griffin and his wife Karrie decided to make a fresh summer vacation start to P.E.I. in 1995 and continued that until they moved here permanently in 2007.

“The very first time we came here we fell in love with it,” he says.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Griffin flipped head over heels in artistic interest with pet portraiture.

“There’s a lot of history to pet portraiture. In Victorian times people were painting a lot of their pets. The masters were including their pets into their portraits,” says this dog lover, who has a schnauzer named Rosie and a poodle called Little Fella.

“People are so close to their pets and they play such an important role in their lives that they want to capture them because they know that they have a finite life and I think that drives a lot of it.”

His animal subjects have been varied — cats, dogs, horses, rabbits and others.

“Actually, I prefer to do (subjects with) four legs as opposed to two. They’re a lot easier to work with and sometimes they’re a lot nicer,” he laughs.

When Griffin is painting a pet from images, which is the most common process, he works from many different images and creates a composition from that.

He still personally interviews all his subjects, no matter their leg count.

“I will go and take photographs of them. I’ll sketch them and then I’ll do a (composition) and then from there I’ll paint. But I really prefer to meet the animal and I’ll try to paint them in a setting that is familiar to the owner so that it means that much more to them, rather than just the pet.”

The key is to capture the inner essence of each animal, he says.

“A lot of them they’ve already figured out your inner spirit. I’m trying to do the same thing,” Griffin smiles.

“Because they just look right through you and they accept you for whatever you are and that’s probably one of the reasons I like them so much.”

Fast facts:

• SpayAid P.E.I. provides low-cost spay/neuter assistance to low income families on the Island.

• This nonprofit organization is hosting its third annual Art for Animals Dinner and Auction on Saturday, Oct. 2 at the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.

• This event will feature art by Island artists John Burden, Karen Gallant, Paul Price, Daphne Irving, Mary Curtis, Joan Creamer, Iris Etheridge, David Campbell, Mel Giddings, Sandi Komst, Peter Griffin, Heather Hannon, Connie O’Brian, Sylvia Ridgeway, Steve Clement, Mary Carr Chaisson, Sharon Smith, Kim Bradford, Henry Purdy, Karl McKeeman, Suzanne O’Callaghan and others.

• It will also include a wide range of Island crafts, gift certificates and other silent auction items.

• Tickets are $55 per person with a $25 charitable receipt and can be purchased at the P.E.I. Humane Society.

• To purchase tickets or to make an auction donation, contact Jane Thomas at 658-2907.