I had a professor in art school who believed that humor in visual art was very difficult to pull off. He maintained that only a few had succeeded without falling into cartoons. Tim Hawkinson generally succeeds with his work. “Penitent,” is one such work that uses tongue-in-cheek humor while also giving the viewer something to ponder. The work is constructed out of rawhide dog chews in the shape of bones. It also incorporates a mechanized dog whistle nestled inside of the rib cage. This creates not only the idea of attracting dogs to gnaw on the piece, but takes on the additional task of attracting the dogs with the whistle. So what Hawinson has devised is a work of art that through its form could attract its own demise, it nearly assures it with the attention getting whistle.
When I saw the piece it was displayed inside of narrow space that resembled a confessional box from a Catholic Church. Add the title is “Penitent,” and additional layers of atonement and punishment become recognized. This changes the humor of a skeleton made of dog chews, into a work of pathos and sympathy.
Hawkinson treads that line between humor and seriousness with aplomb, where the viewer at first glance chuckles at the obvious joke only to check themselves when the deeper meaning becomes apparent. Some art is deserving of a second glance and a longer ponder.
Arthur Bruso © 2017