Picture Worth a Thousand Woofs: Athenaeum installs mural by William Wegman in La Jolla

Athenaeum installs mural by William Wegman

For decades, artist and photographer William Wegman has captured images of his Weimaraner dogs in elaborate and outlandish costumes and poses. When asked to participate in the Murals of La Jolla public art series, however, Wegman chose “Opening,” a surprisingly simple, albeit playful image, installed Sept. 26 on the side of the La Jolla Village Information Center building at 1162 Prospect St.

The photo was taken in Wegman’s studio several years ago, with his 85-pound dog, Chip, grandson of his second Weimaraner, Fay Ray (a nod to “King Kong” actress Fay Wray).

“It was always an interesting picture, a dog kind of blasting through set paper, but when introduced to this wall I think it takes on a more powerful and amusing (aspect),” said Wegman, speaking with La Jolla Light last week from his New York City home.

Wegman’s fascination and longtime working relationship with Weimaraners began after he purchased his first dog, Man Ray, while teaching at California State University, Long Beach in 1970.

“He was more mysterious to me than just a snapshot of a dog,” Wegman said. “He was really interested in me photographing him and he acted differently when I was pointing these things at him than if I was just playing ball or goofing off with him.”

Wegman said his affinity for photo-graphing Man Ray (an homage to the American modernist photographer) grew over time.

“There was something really special and interesting about this relationship and I was really careful with it,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to abuse it or overuse it … or make it into a caricature of itself. It lasted about 12 years and dominated my work from the ’70s into 1981. … When he died, I was absolutely thinking that was the end of that.”

Wegman wouldn’t obtain his second Weimaraner until 1986. During the ‘80s, he explored painting and other work, such as a commission with UC San Diego’s Stuart Gallery, appropriately titled, “La Jolla Vista View” (1988).

“It’s kind of an ironic piece because it was like a scenic overlook overlooking probably the least scenic area in La Jolla — kind of highway sprawl,” said Wegman, a native of Holyoke, Mass. “I became very bonded with (Stuart Collection Director) Mary Beebe and her gang … so when this mural project came, up of course I wanted to do it.”

Wegman had moved to New York by the time he “cautiously accepted” Fay Ray, whose puppies would also appear in his photographs.

As artist in residence at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, he photographed Fay Ray using the college’s large format Polaroid camera. From there, his work exploded into the mainstream, appearing in children’s books, films, calendars and even TV’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Wegman found the regal composure of the ashen to charcoal colored breed the perfect canvas for his artistic expression.

“Being still and pointing out the duck or the pheasant is something they just do,” he said. “They’re sort of neutral gray and they go with anything. … They’re not like Dalmatians or Golden Retrievers or Boxers, which are much more identifiable as specific creatures. They give you lots of latitude. ... I’ve had about 10 different Weimaraners and they all have slightly different looks: some are sad, some are comic, some are serious and scary, and some are just silly.”

There are 13 works in the Murals of La Jolla, a project of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library that was started several years ago by the La Jolla Community Foundation. Wegman’s mural replaces Robert Ginder’s “House,” which was installed in 2012.

In 1992, Wegman displayed an artist’s book, “Field Guide to North America,” at the Athenaeum. It depicted paintings, drawings and photographs from a camping trip, with one photo featuring a dog covered in tree bark, titled, “His bite is worse than his bark.”

Murals of La Jolla selection committee member Lynda Forsha said the Athenaeum currently has artists completing proposals for other mural sites around the Village that have never been used, and others proposing work to take the place of existing murals, which are temporal, and must be rotated out periodically to keep the project vibrant and fresh, Forsha said.

ON THE WEB: For more information about the Murals of La Jolla, visit LJAthenaeum.org and MuralsOfLaJolla.com

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