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In Memoriam Kafka

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In Memoriam Kafka

A perfect studio dog
Kafka, Studio Dog
When I had to put my studio dog, Kafka, to sleep after 14 years of companionship, my friend, Warren Criswell, responded, "How did you put him down?" as if there was a choice. He had, as I had, misinterpreted the other's remark.

Kafka, the writer, was and remains a seminal influence on my artistic temperament. So it was understandable that Warren thought I had moved on artistically from Kafka's writing by somehow removing it from my work and was wondering how I had accomplished this and I thought Warren was being exceptionally cruel and heartless about the loss of my dog (especially as he had just experienced the loss of his less than a month previous).

Kafka, the writer, provides me with more than just a theme but a way of approaching my work and reaffirms (if that's the correct word) my belief in the precariousness of everyday life. And Kafka, my dog, was more than a lazy yet attentive witness to my moods and abreactions but a medium for reducing the stress and terror of the studio - creating there a sense of continuity and safety.
Kafka in studio
The studio is now so much more an empty and chilling environment without her. I am not sure how many artists have studio pets (besides rats, roaches and other varmints) but I imagine that those that do understand how much those pets play in the creative process.

Kafka, my dog, understood the difference between art and garbage but disagreed with me on what that difference might be. She was an active participant in my process by providing a spontaneous and improvisational tail wag to fresh charcoal or paint. She enjoyed licking the coffee off the lower parts of my drawings as much as I enjoyed drinking the coffee from the cup in my hand. Kafka had a discriminating palate. Charcoal that broke off from my sticks while I drew she ate like peanuts but left the powder to accumulate on the ground - powder I swept up into wet brushes I dragged across my drawings for special effects.

She preferred to be horizontal and when she couldn't jump into her chair (it was my chair until she discovered it one day while I wasn't looking and claimed it as her own) she would set herself down within my aesthetic distance with such perfect precision that my thrusting, rubbing and smearing attacks on the paper were never displaced. And as the charcoal rained down on her she would sleep. Kafka knew to leave the studio when I shook a can of fixative and put on a fan, or moved a work off the wall or started to clean and rearrange the studio. And studio business, apart from drawing that disrupted the smell or solitude of the space, made her uncomfortable. She wouldn't return until things settled down. The sound of movies, music, or audiobooks never affected her but she would raise her head to look at me if I stopped drawing or made a grunt or two.

Kafka was never quite comfortable with me stopping my work, coming over to sit on the edge of her chair and petting her. Somehow she felt that something was a foot and that my petting was simply a holding pattern that would either lead me to close up shop, or carelessly jump in and out of the chair to apply a stroke or two to a drawing. When she was too lame to jump into the chair and I sat there with my feet resting on a box, she would sometimes pass her whole body under my legs like a cat and drop down to sleep there.

She snored and farted and burped. She was quieter when she was younger. And while she was always interested in food, when she got older and couldn't see very well and her head was lowered to the ground to keep her bearings, smelling out bits of food became her favorite past time. I forget she's gone and find myself whisking off crumbs to the kitchen floor during my after dinner clean up only to step on them in bare feet the next morning because Kafka isn't around to consume them.

When Kafka became lame, she would arrange herself with her back legs and bottom to the stairs so that she could get herself up by bringing her front paws into her body and pressing herself up against the step. Even now, I find myself looking out for her at the bottom of the steps where she would sleep at night.

Kafka grew whiter around her muzzle and her eyebrows. We shared that trait. I grew grayer too during the time I had her. I was 46 when we picked her out of a litter of much larger pups (she ate her first meal at our house standing in the food bowl). Like her during the end, I'm not as flexible or as strong as I was and its hard to see me dealing with a puppy again (even Kafka got annoyed when my daughter, Grady, brought her pups to the house). But even so I can't imagine working in a studio without a dog.

It is hard to be in your own head for hours on end as you are in a studio especially when Kafka the writer is present. It is one thing to work through one's narratives on paper. It is another to feel that they have become real within the studio. Sometimes the presence of a warm body is enough to make it bearable.

I have lost a dear and faithful companion in Kafka and my studio is colder for it.

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