Top Dogs 

Flying M curators up to some new tricks

A new dog show is coming to town, and it's not of the Christopher Guest, hoop-jumping, Weimaraner-trotting variety. For First Thursday this month, the Flying M hosts a group show that is a shrine to all things canine. John Warfel and Jeremy "Jerms" Lanningham—the M's self-proclaimed "rad-dad" curating team—came up with the idea for the themed "Dog Days of Summer" show after seeing a similar exhibit in Portland. But this show has a twist: Half of all the proceeds will go directly to the Idaho Humane Society.

"We spun it to where we [said], 'Hey let's do something good. Let's put a new face on it for not only artists and animals, but let's give some money to the Idaho Humane Society," says Lanningham.

A few months ago, the two sent out an e-mail to their usual-suspects artists list and were floored by the response it fetched. At press time, 19 artists had made firm commitments to be in the show, but Warfel and Lanningham expect a couple more to trot in before the exhibit opens on Thursday.

"So far the response from the artists has been really good. We have a lot of what John and I would consider 'heavy hitters' of this art scene," notes Lanningham.

These "heavy hitters" include established artists like Erin Ruiz and Ben Wilson, and even Basement Gallery owner Perry Allen. Ruiz's tiny piece Guilty Party features a Chihuahua in a red sweatshirt looking culpable with bat-like ears and Viking horns sticking out of its hood. Perry's submission is more tranquil, using graphite and color pencil to depict his golden lab in a pastoral field of flowers.

Other artists involved in the show include Jeremy Webster, Noah Kroese, Bryan Moore, Megan Laursen, Grant Olsen, Noble Hardesty, Teresa Johnson, Stephanie Dickey, Richard Walter, Laurie Blakeslee, April VanDeGrift, Kimbal Anderson, Cara Abdo, Richard Walter and Curt Cutler.

"This is cool because you get a lot of different people on one subject doing all sorts of different things," Warfel says. "But this is a little more work this way. Normally it's just been one artist every month, which is a little easier to handle logistically."

One artist with a more eclectic take on the theme is watercolorist Bryan Moore. His Dino-Dachshund portrays an army-green Dachshund with large, pleading brown eyes. Riding the dog's back, mechanical-bull style, is a naked black supermodel, hair feathered out, trailing behind her. Drippy orange and yellow flowers bloom in the background. Jennie Myers' small, gold-framed painting, Son of Dog, is more G-Rated, with a cartoon dog of unspecified pedigree floating in the sky, holding onto a string coming out of a balloon-shaped sun.

And though this benefit won't pack the monetary punch of the Flying M's long-running "Valentines for AIDS" benefit, the pair hopes it will become an annual tradition in the same way.

"They have 'Valentines for AIDS' in February. One of the reasons we thought about doing this in August is we wanted to have another charity kind of event that wasn't close to that one," explains Warfel. "So now we have two a year that are kind of split up by five to six months."

Whether it's a credit to Warfel and Lanningham's laid-back approach or the fact that the Humane Society has streamlined its donation process to accommodate dozens of school kid penny drives, organizing a benefit was much easier than the two would've imagined.

"I sent an e-mail and said, 'Here's what we're planning on doing and I assume you don't mind receiving money, so how do we go about doing this?'"

Though the Humane Society's development director Christine Moore explains that a great deal of its funding comes from community events and donations, she says they aren't approached too often for art events like "Dog Days of Summer."

"We don't get a lot of art benefit shows. We get a fair number of people who will do small events [of] which we are the beneficiary and they call to see if it's OK that they use our name. But not a lot of art events," says Moore.

Artist April VanDeGrift, whose piece Aviator shows a greyhound sporting black goggles and clutching a caged white rabbit between its paws, thinks this exhibit will draw out a different crowd than the Flying M's other group exhibits. Her sister, she says, is already planning on bringing her dog-loving friends to the show.

"As an illustrator, I always get people who ask if I can paint their dog. So I know a lot of art will be sold to those types," notes VanDeGrift.

But even with the prospect of attracting a new audience, Warfel and Lanningham are reticent to expect much from the trudging art market. Though the pieces will all start at a reasonable $35, with silent bidding continuing from Aug. 7 through Aug. 28, they hope price tags on work from some artists will climb into the hundreds of dollars. Even though people are tightening their belts now, Lanningham is confident that things can only get better.

"It'll bounce back, though. I think you just have to be creative with events like this and just have fun," he says.

Having fun seems to be a high priority. Leaning against a workbench in the Flying M's cluttered basement, they talk about how busy their lives are as full-time graphic designers, freelance illustrators, co-curators and new fathers. Though Warfel and Lanningham both credit their wives for keeping the chaos at bay, they joke that unlimited free coffee should be more than enough compensation. And as if all this weren't enough, the two are toying around with an even bigger project down the line:

"Maybe one of these days, John and I will own a gallery," Lanningham says.

—Tara Morgan

Exhibit opens Thursday, Aug. 7, and runs through Thursday, Aug. 28. Flying M, 500 W. Idaho St., 208-345-4320, myspace.com/flyingm.

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