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Issue 235

Josip Novosel Searches for Unconditional Love

At Noah Klink, Berlin, the artist’s dog paintings are disarmingly joyful depictions of human-animal relationships

BY Kito Nedo in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 23 MAR 23

Berlin’s coat of arms may feature a bear, but everybody knows Germany’s capital is really a city of dogs. Like it or not, Berliners must co-exist with the city’s four-legged friends, sharing parks, pavements and even bars. Featuring an array of what the exhibition literature tells us are gay men posing with their dogs, the eleven paintings in Josip Novosel’s ‘The Good Boi’ fit perfectly into this environment. Their titles are as straightforward as the scenes they depict: Portrait of a man with a dog (2022) shows a white-collar type in a trench coat with a dog outside the fancy entrance to a turn-of-the-century apartment block; in Portrait of a man with a Dalmatian dog (2023), the protagonists embrace on a sunbeam; Morning run pace the gaze (2022) depicts a moustachioed Tom Selleck lookalike and his dog going through their fitness routine, while Unconditional love (2023) portrays a happily expectant pug whose eyes reflect the silhouette of its returning owner. Each picture depicts a microcosm of affection between human and animal: a self-contained, everyday universe.

Josip Novosel, ‘The Good Boi’, 2023, exhibition view, Galerie Noah Klink, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Noah Klink, Berlin; Photo: Hans Georg Gaul

Novosel plunges these scenes into the kind of saturated golden light usually only found in adverts, but that also casts hard, dark shadows in which the uncanny lurks. In Portrait of a man with a dog (2022), for instance, a shadow stretches almost like a second character from the right to cover a quarter of the face and neck area of a youthful man with strong legs and clunky shoes who holds a very cute lapdog in his strong arms. Novosel’s oranges and yellows are the antithesis of the cool blues and greys that Francis Bacon used in his frostily threatening Man with Dog (1953) – a nocturnal street scene for which the artist clearly drew on British photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century studies of dog movement. Bacon’s mastiff shares its existential darkness with two other prominent dogs in art history: Francisco de Goya’s El Perro (The Dog, c.1819), which sits all alone like the sole survivor of the apocalypse; and the similarly forlorn baying hound on a seashore in J. M.W. Turner’s Dawn After the Wreck (c.1841). Unlike his famous predecessors, however, Novosel is not interested in such depictions of desolation or aggression. His focus is on dogs as relational animals, companions and mirror beings for humans.

Josip Novosel, ‘The Good Boi’, 2023, exhibition view, Galerie Noah Klink, Berlin. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Noah Klink, Berlin; Photo: Hans Georg Gaul

‘Co-habiting does not mean fuzzy and touchy-feely,’ writes Donna Haraway in The Companion Species Manifesto (2003) – arguably the most significant text on human-animal relationships of recent years. Instead, she praises J. R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip (1956) for its celebration of the ‘search for knowledge of the intimate other, and the inevitable comic and tragic mistakes in that quest’. With their rapid, almost cartoon-like aesthetic, Novosel’s images engage the conversation about the complex subject area outlined by Haraway in a surprising, disarmingly joyful way. But, while Haraway strives for the ‘multiform’ and ‘consequential’, there is a good-natured simplicity to the human-dog relationships Novosel depicts, which, as he stated in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek video posted on the gallery’s Instagram, are a way of exploring his ‘loyalty’ and desire for ‘unconditional love’ as a gay man. In this light, the artist’s paintings can be read as strikingly candid portrayals of tenderness and the cross-species need for companionship. They show dogs as allies in the fight against the destructive power of loneliness.

Josip Novosel’s ‘The Good Boi’ is on view at Galerie Noah Klink, Berlin, until 6 April.

Main image: Josip Novosel, Portrait of a man with a Dalmatian dog (detail), 2023, oil on handwoven cotton, 1.5 × 1.3 m. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Noah Klink, Berlin; Photo: Hans Georg Gaul

Kito Nedo lives in Berlin where he works as contributing editor for frieze and as freelance journalist for several magazines and newspapers. In 2017, he won the ADKV-Art Cologne Award for Art Criticism.