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Sunday, October 13, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

Every dog has its day … and a portrait

Breslau artist Jacqueline Gori’s illustrations of man’s best friends help draw attention to mental health issues

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Veronica Reiner is a Reporter Photographer for The Observer.

Breslau artist Jacqueline Gori’s two great passions combine to create a feel-good art exhibit at the Kitchener Public Library that appeals to all audiences.

“When Passions Collide” displays 41 portraits of dogs through four different mediums – acrylic, watercolour, graphite, and photography. The official launch took place last week, and the artwork is on display until the end of the month.

“It was super busy. There were people there from 6 p.m. right with the way through till 8:30 p.m. – the library had to kick us out,” said Gori of opening night. “We even had somebody travel from Georgetown, Mississauga to come and see their dogs in the exhibition. So that was fun.”

“A constant stream of people are coming down to see the show of all age groups. We hosted a kid’s show the other night – the kids love it as well,” added Elmira art designer Stephanie Donkers-Schmaltz. “It’s a show that appeals to all ages – everybody loves dogs.”

To create an illustration, Gori spends ample time interacting with the dog to observe its unique traits and does a full photo-shoot. In the case of a memorial portrait, Gori looks at photos and interviews the pet’s owners so she can get a better sense of its personality. It’s what makes her images so lifelike: time and dedication to getting to know the subject.

Each work is accompanied by a brief story behind the painting, making it accessible for the visually impaired. There are also educational links to time-lapse drawings.

“A graphite portrait takes between 20 and 30 hours because I draw every single hair,” said Gori. “Acrylics, depending on the size, can take up to two weeks. Watercolours are probably the quickest because they’re liquid and fluid. They’re a little tricky. They’re fun; they have a totally different feel to them. They’re brighter, but then there are fewer details.”

Most of her illustrations have appeared in fundraising books available on Amazon such as “In Service: Portraits of Dogs that Change Lives” written by Nancy Silcox, for the Cambridge National Service Dogs charity.

Gori’s work is also featured in “Workin’ Like a Dog; Doin’ Nuthin’ Like a Cat: Canadian Pets Who Go to the Office,” also by Silcox, for Kali’s Wish, a not-for-profit dedicated to supporting families whose pets are undergoing cancer treatment.

The next book, “I Love Labs,” is scheduled to be released in October. It is aimed at raising money to train a service dog, part of an effort to help clear a waiting list of potential recipients.

The motivation behind the exhibit is very personal to Gori: creating art has provided her relief from her mental health issues.

South African-born, Gori is open about her struggles that stem from a sexual assault that left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. She has a service dog, a four-year-old yellow lab named Samson, who helps her snap back to the present from any flashbacks she may experience and to help her navigate everyday life. Samson is trained to detect rises in cortisol, the stress hormone, and drops in serotonin.

“Samson has saved me from seven suicide attempts,” said Gori. “When I zone out, the flashbacks are so intense I don’t really want to live through them. He has literally knocked knives out of my hands, knocked pills out of my hands, and he uses his full weight in those situations.”

She recalled one incident where she grabbed a razor blade in the shower in the midst of experiencing a traumatic memory. Samson threw his full body weight into the shower door and interrupted those thoughts.

“It just takes that split second for me to think ‘Wait a second, what am I doing? I need to find my counsellor and get help.’ That’s really what this exhibition is all about. It’s to raise awareness for mental health and to get people talking about it,” said Gori.

She noted that none of the works on display are for sale; the majority are past commissions on loan from the owners.

“It’s really about bringing people out to the library in the society of mental health that we have right now – come and get a dose of happiness. That’s my heart,” said Gori. “I’m not interested in making money; I just believe dogs make people happy. And I want to raise awareness and make people happy.”

“When Passions Collide” is on display at the lower gallery of the Kitchener Public Library at 85 Queen St. until July 31.

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