Mixed media by Heather Pocock from ‘Jumping for Joyce’, at the Francis Kyle gallery (http://www.franciskylegallery.com/sites/curex.htm)
I’m hoping that I’ll get to visit this new exhibition while it’s open (3 July -25 September) of contemporary art inspired by Joyce’s world. It’s full of images and sculptures of Molly and of Dublin and more abstract things that respond to a few words from a text or to its atmosphere. One of these more abstract paintings, ‘The Idea of Pennies’, is done by Freida Hughes, daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. There’s also a great sculpture of Bloom’s cat. But I was looking at the images on the exhibition website I was struck by this lovely image by Hannah Pocock. It’s quite hard to link my love of Joyce and my love of dogs – he was a famous cynophobe, after being attacked by a neighbourhood dog as a child. I try quite hard though – here’s a picture of my dog that I sometimes use in my teaching, just for fun.
Dogs are frequently important to the work, as Joyce’s fear of dogs makes him an intent and precise observer of them. Fear means he doesn’t sentimentalise or anthropomorphise – Joyce’s dogs are beautiful and uncanny.
In ‘Proteus’, the subject of Pocock’s painting, Stephen is walking alone on the beach. Stephen is equally afraid of dogs and the sea. He is trapped in stasis – Joyce himself complained that Stephen ‘has a shape that can’t be changed’. Throughout the episode, the dog represents movement and change, like the sea itself. The first sight of the running dog makes him freeze.
‘A point, live dog, grew into sight running across the sweep of sand. Lord, is he going to attack me? Respect his liberty. You will not be master of others or their slave. I have my stick. Sit tight.’
But throughout the chapter the dog transforms, repeatedly. In the next paragraphs he is protean, standing in for all animals, like the ‘seachange’ Stephen fears and imagines. In a few lines the dog becomes:
‘a bounding hare’
a bear: ‘mute bearish fawning’
a wolf: ‘a rag of wolf’s tongue’
a calf: ‘a calf’s gallop’
a heraldic animal: ‘a buck, trippant, proper, unattired’
‘a pard, a panther’.
In this moment captured by Pocock, the dog and the sea, Stephen’s two great fears, confront each other:
‘At the lacefringe of the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking, plashing, from far, from farther out, waves and waves’.
The sound of the dog’s voice and the sea’s voice are a model for Stephen, the would-be artist, offering a possibility of movement and change. Earlier in the passage, Stephen identifies with the dog, calling him ‘dogsbody’, which his friend Mulligan dismissively called him. The dog is a Canute figure perhaps, but Stephen envies his defiance. What he should envy more is the dog’s capacity for change.
So, great as Pocock’s image is, we might still think that it looks too much like a dog, with its subversive potential left to one side.