The man and the dog

Queenstown artist Ivan Clarke is the painter behind New Zealand’s much-loved Lonely Dog paintings. Julia Strelou finds out what he’s currently up to.

Wondering what his own dog did when left at home, painter Ivan Clarke soon found a novel way to express what he thought they might be doing, creating what has become a world-renowned series.

Along with his other paintings, to date Clarke has released more than 200 works in the Lonely Dog series, capturing hearts all over the world. The Lonely Dog remains the largest art licence to come out of New Zealand, and in June it was announced that it will be involved in an immersive art and multimedia production being created in America.

“Lonely Dog paintings take us on a journey,” he explains. “People often see themselves and others in the pictures.

“The common working-class hound has a simplistic way of celebrating life and I think people are taken with this,” says Clarke.

A second-generation artist, he sold his first painting at age eleven. His journey started in the family business as a traditional sign writer.
“It was diverse, anything from painting on the sides of a delivery truck to on a four-storied building – our work was always on show. It was always a statement, and we were paid for it. It was old school.”

The business taught Clarke how to view art through a commercial lens, but he was looking to create something more – work that made viewers feel something.

The old sign company still exists, although Clarke sold it long ago and transitioned full-time into making a living in fine art.

Raised in Auckland, Clarke holidayed in Queenstown, and something about the region spoke to him. “As a kid, I remember thinking: scenery, hunting, fishing, skiing, kayaking, tramping – It was like the wild west in a Kiwi sort of way.”

Following his heart, he made Queenstown his home; residing there for 30 years now. The region’s breathtaking scenery often features in his works. “When I paint landscapes, I look to create a magic moment in time with the play of light and atmosphere on the natural world that cannot be captured on camera.”

Strolling through the Camp Street Gallery in Queenstown you can see his love for the South Island terrain reflected in the work. His brushstrokes carefully reproduce the softness of light, clouds, and water, but also impress the wild transient nature of the landscape.

Passing each canvas you are overcome with a sense of the momentary; a beautiful fierce scene that would have otherwise passed you by becomes immortalised in the piece. “With painting, you get to rewind all those magic components that you’ve observed,” says Clarke.

His artistic influences are wide-ranging, from Claude Monet to Dr. Seuss, and this is portrayed in the contrast between his whimsical landscapes and “big-eared, saggy-jowled” dogs.

His original landscapes are for sale, but if you are wanting a Lonely Dog it will have to be a limited edition print. “With the Lonely Dog Art collection, I own the entire collection of originals; none have ever been sold except for the occasional pencil sketch donated for charity purposes.”

Two new Lonely Dog editions were released this year, the first in two years, and Clarke plans to release more, aspiring to paint two or three new artworks annually and sell limited edition prints of them.

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From the editor: 16 September 2021

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