On Canvas, Capturing A Dog’s ‘Soul’

dsc_0360Joy Malin Neo stands beside a portrait created by Joy Malin, an East Village painter who specializes in portraits of dogs. Below: Ms. Malin with Neo and Charlie.
IMG_0107Alexa Tsoulis-Reay

Joy Malin can’t conceal her love of dogs, even over the phone. “When you arrive, come to apartment D, as in dog” she announced when I called to schedule a meeting. This was a fitting introduction to the East Village-based artist who estimates that she has painted oil portraits of more than 120 dogs in the last three years.

Her animal portrait business started when she did an oil painting of her daughter’s Doxie, Neo. Her daughter was delighted with the result and Ms. Malin decided it would be a fulfilling way to supplement her art brokering business which had suffered during the recession.

She began to advertise on Craigslist, with signs in Washington Square Park and through the gossip networks that connect East Village dog lovers. She’s a regular at Tompkins Square Park where she walks her Yorkie Charlie with a team of dog owners who call themselves the “Housewives of Tompkins Square Park,” because their lives are so intertwined.

While Ms. Malin’s process varies from dog to dog, she usually paints from photos. That, she says, is the key to a successful portrait: turning the 11 × 14 inch oil paintings into more than generic portraits of a breed. “If you have a great photograph then it is easy to capture the soul of the dog,” Ms. Malin says. “It’s in the eyes.” She tends to work quickly noting “when you spend a lot of time on it, it gets stale.”

The portraits, hung in living rooms and bedrooms across the East Village and beyond, symbolize the intimate connection between a dog and its owner. Her clients, who pay upwards of $250 per portrait, are often reduced to tears when they are presented with their paintings. “It’s so important to do a really good job,” Ms. Malin says. “I want them to cry when they open the package. They love the paintings because they love their dogs.”

Ms. Malin says that her relationship with her own dogs allows her to tap into the bond that her clients have with their pets. When 18-year-old Sam, her beloved white Yorkie, died just over a year ago Ms. Malin had to move apartments to escape the haunting memories. She did his portrait, using a photo of his last summer at the beach as a source image, but the process was painful. Sam’s portrait hangs by her window, and she also has his name is tattooed on the top of her foot. She explains, “Unconditional love is hard to pass. And, that’s what dogs offer us.”

A sampling of Ms. Malin’s work:

dsc_0360Joy Malin

Ms. Malin’s first client was her daughter’s Doxie, Neo.

doggieJoy Malin

Rosie, an English Mastiff painted for Brianna Cianciulli, of Mamaroneck, N.Y. as a gift for her father. Ms. Cianciulli says that Rosie was a beloved member of her family, who died about nine years ago. When her father saw the portrait he was moved to tears. “Joy captured the eyes really well. It was just like the look that Rosie gave,” says Ms. Cianciulli.

IMG_0110Alexa Tsoulis-Reay

James Erath and his wife, Ilka, own the pet store Puppy Love and Kitty Kat on East Ninth Street and wanted mementos of their pugs Emma and Chloe. Mr. Erath says that the paintings, on proud display by the store’s front window, capture the personality of his pets. “People paint pictures for my store all the time, but Joy is very East Village. She uses interesting colors, and her paintings are not too formal. I don’t want to see the detail of the dog, I want to see the life.”

dsc00378-1Joy Malin

This painting is of Smash, a pit bull owned by a man Ms. Malin met in Tompkins Square Park. Ms. Malin says she has watched Smash grow from a puppy into a strong Blue Nose Pit Bull. “I would love to paint him again as an adult dog. Soon, very soon!”

dsc01430Joy Malin

Ella is a black Pomeranian who lives with her owner in London. Ms. Malin was commissioned by a New Yorker to paint the picture as a wedding gift. But it took some convincing: “When I saw poor Ella dressed in a sailor’s outfit I said, “no way, I just don’t do paintings like that.’” She eventually relented and she loves the result.