“Sofa dogs” big hit for artist

Sofa Sitters of Victoria Exhibition. Showed September 12-24, 2013 at the Art Centre at Cedar Hill– CACGV Main Gallery, 3220 Cedar Hill Road.

View Durrand’s work at http://www.dianadurrand.com/

Reviewed By Liz Snell

Two older women stare at the framed photographs in the gallery. “Sure is different,” one comments. “What a funny idea.”

“That’s our church!” the other points out. In the photo, Sophie, a golden retriever, sits on a checked sofa in front of Victoria’s soaring Christ Church Cathedral.

Another woman stops at a photo of the Beaconsfield Inn, which is perfectly matched with the plaid armchair set in front. Lily, a grinning Labrador retriever, poses on the chair. “I worked in that building. Oh for heaven’s sake, isn’t that something. Is it still there?”

Victoria artist Diana Durrand, 62, spent two years photographing passersby’s dogs on Victoria’s discarded furniture. The ordinary scene of a dog on a sofa, transplanted to an unusual setting, creates both whimsy and pathos. Durrand’s inspiration for The Sofa Sitters of Victoria arrived after she lost her own dog and began to notice everyone else’s. On her walks around the city, she’d stop at a roadside sofa and wait for the right dog to come along. “It was always an adventure; I never knew what I’d find.”

Dog owners were usually excited to participate. “Some of them have become friends; I met some really interesting people.”

Many of the dogs in the series had been rescued by their owners. In one photo, a rescued dog, Sir James Douglas, lounges calmly on a discarded loveseat in front of an abandoned house, as if to say, “I’m the lucky one.” The description alongside each picture includes the dog’s name. This specificity was important to Durrand: “They’re not just ‘a dog.’”

Durrand studied visual art at the University of Victoria from 1968-1972 and has been painting for many years, but photography was something new. The Sofa Sitters project was a crash course on “learning to see like a photographer.” She printed the photos in black-and-white then re-coloured them with chalk pastel. This allowed her to add softness and limit her palette. She describes this process as creating an intimate connection with the subject: “It’s almost like touching.”

Durrand particularly enjoyed working collaboratively on this project, noting the dog owners, sofa-sighters and those who helped her perfect the photo/pastel technique. “I don’t really feel it’s my show.”

For a project so rooted in community, this seems right. Durrand describes the public response to Sofa Sitters as “over-the-top.” One of the comments in her guestbook calls the exhibition “the quintessential Victoria art show.”

Durrand agrees. “It’s so about them.”

She sees Victoria as the perfect setting for this project because of its high number of pedestrians (especially dog-walkers), its toleration of roadside sofas, and its friendliness. “You couldn’t do this in Detroit; there’s not the trust.”

Durrand is no stranger to the magic in roadside cast-offs; she’s found inspiration for a previous series in a discarded McDonald’s fries carton, and for another in Vancouver’s abandoned gloves. Even as a child she formed creations from her mother’s old cigarette boxes.

“The beautiful stuff’s already beautiful; I’m not interested in painting flowers. I want people to have a second look at things. There’s beauty everywhere.”

Liz Snell is a writer and recent UVic graduate.