The title, Animals and Men, comes from Kenneth Clark’s 1977 book of the same name. Kenneth Clark was someone we were compelled to study at art school in Brisbane in the mid 1970s. We looked at lots of the films he made about art history but something about his English aristocratic manner really put me off getting anything really out of him. Over 30 years later I still have the book and with his tone of voice out of my mind the book is a great collection of images of animals through the history of art with a very readable text.

I have painted animals for quite a while now so this group of works will come as no surprise to people who know my work but I still love portraying cats, dogs, horses and the like.
I think my love of animals began with the stray cats in the West End, Brisbane where I was born in 1956. I used to save the scraps of food from my family’s plates and when I got my first job delivering newspapers I used to buy tins of cat food for them. All the members of my family dismissed me as being slightly crazy. Throughout my life I have always been surprised when I encounter people who do not share my feelings about animals.

Animals are much more complex than most people give them credit for and the debate I often think about is whether or not they have souls? Having been brought up a strict catholic a soul, to me, is tied up with blind faith which is a requirement of most religions and whatever a soul is, man’s treatment of animals throughout history displays a complete lack of soul. The domestic dog is what I can speak about most having lived with quite a few in my life. They are a perfect example of the attachment object theory that psychiatrists write and talk about. My dogs Max and Rosie and myself have formed an attachment bond as well as with other members of my family. There are many examples of when people die their dogs stand guard over the corpse. I saw a film on dogs once where a dog who had spent his life with a family, was quite old, and one night visited all the people in the house, jumped up on their beds, had a gentle sniff and went downstairs and died. They are very sensitive to peoples’ moods, they have a memory, they dream when they are asleep. Enough said, for me, they are very soulful creatures.

Noel McKenna
June 2013