Life imitates art. Art imitates life. And when a painter finds herself sheltered at home with an Australian Shepherd and plenty of pent-up creative energy, art imitates art.
“My workplace closed on March 15,” Eliza Reinhardt said. “My boyfriend still works because he’s at a grocery store, so it was just me and the dog in our loft, every day. It was kind of getting to me a little bit.”
An Iowa City native and painter living in St. Louis, Missouri, Reinhardt was feeling uninspired until, in late March, her mother (illustrator Jennifer Black Reinhardt) sent her a viral video of a person doing a funny voiceover for their dog. “She was just like, ‘I find this horrifying, but you should do something with Finn.’”
Reinhardt decided to recreate classic paintings by the likes of Frida Kahlo, Henry Fuseli, Vincent van Gogh and Mary Cassatt with her dog, Finn, using supplies she had around the house and her smartphone’s camera.
“I thought, ‘I’ve taken art history, this will be fun,'” Reinhardt said. “It became my job, almost — every day, I would try and do one so it felt like something to do. And Finn loves it, he thinks it’s so fun. It’s something we get to do together. He’s not just laying around, and I have something to keep me productive.”
Reinhardt grew up in an “artsy family” in Iowa City, she said. When she was 18 years old and a senior at West High, she suffered a severe brain injury and “lost all my memories.”
To stay close to her family, Reinhardt decided to attend the University of Iowa. She tried studying astronomy, physics and other science-based courses, but struggled without the recall of her high school education.
“I did not take an art class until I took basic drawing on a whim my junior year,” she said. “[I thought], ‘Hey, I can do this without needing 10 years’ worth of calculus knowledge to be able to make through.’ It all just kind of fell into place, happened for a reason, if people believe in that sort of thing. As unfortunate as it was, it was the right path.”
Reinhardt graduated UI in 2018 with a BFA in painting. Her paintings tend to explore themes of childhood and memory. In August 2019, she moved to St. Louis with her boyfriend Ryan Dorman, a photographer, and Finn.
Her quarantine project, which she calls her Isolation Painting Recreations, posed a challenge for Reinhardt, who didn’t have a photographer around during the day to help her take the photos.
“The first I want to say five or six, I’m just setting my phone in selfie camera mode, setting it up on some books and doing a 10-second timer.” In those 10 seconds, she’d grab the 55-pound Finn, pose him and herself and hope Finn didn’t lick his nose or turn his head the wrong direction at the last second.
“I guess my mom told my dad that that’s the way I was doing it, and so he Amazon-ed me a tripod with a little remote,” she said. “Now I use that and it’s a lot easier.”
As far as which works she decided to recreate, Reinhardt started by browsing online collections and art books for paintings with dog subjects, but eventually branched out; Finn has stood in for cats, babies, birds, demons and even the titular figure in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.”
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“I think the funniest ones and the ones that make me laugh the most are the Fridas with Finn standing in as the monkeys,” Reinhardt said. “And the unicorn — Finn let me put a three-foot tinfoil horn on his head. He’s been such a trooper. He puts up with 800 shots every day.”
As Reinhardt’s gotten more ambitious with her pieces, she’s tapped into her painting expertise. To recreate Pablo Picasso’s “Nude with Cats,” she spent five hours painting a seven-by-five-foot backdrop. Another Picasso, “Woman with Bird,” had her painting her face and chest to create an abstract effect. The more time goes into a recreation, the more pride she gets out of it, Reinhardt said.
“I never really thought it was going to go past the first two or three because it was exhausting, but every day I get up and I have this itch to do it.”
Reinhardt’s followers on Facebook and Instagram have embraced the series, and requested she publish the recreations in a book or calendar — options Reinhardt is considering. But for now, she’s just working to put out a new piece every day.
“With the responses I’m getting, I have no desire to stop, because I love how people are telling me it’s making quarantine more bearable, or it makes people smile when they see them,” she said.
“I was in such a slump at the beginning [of social distancing] because it was so unmotivating to sit in the studio. But I think stepping out of that box and trying something that I’ve never done and something that is not serious, that’s funny and doesn’t have to be hung on a gallery wall, is great.”
Her advice to other artists caught in a creative slump: “Just make something that makes you giggle. As long as you have fun doing it, then everyone else will enjoy it.”