Heather LaHaise was truly born to love dogs which would become the focus of all her artwork. The contemporary artist grew up in a dog-loving home, but was it wasn’t until the third grade that she truly became infatuated with everything canine, devoting herself to Charlie Brown’s exceptional dog Snoopy.
“I was obsessed with Snoopy! I had a Snoopy purse, Snoopy lamp, all of the Snoopy dolls, and I would draw pictures of Snoopy everywhere and on everything!” LaHaise chirped, reminiscing about her childhood, and exhibited a framed letter, hand-signed by Charles Schultz himself, circa 1976.
The cartoonist responsible for giving the world “Peanuts” responded to a letter that LaHaise’s father sent to him expressing his young daughter’s profound love for Snoopy and his comics.
Raised in Columbia, but born in New York, LaHaise considers herself a local. She graduated from USC with a degree in Fine Art before briefly returning to Manhattan and attending Pratt for illustration and design classes, and then began forging a career in fashion and graphic design, as this was the direction she was steered by her professors. LaHaise diligently followed this direction for years, until she found Summer, over ninety-one years ago. (Dog years, that is…).
Summer cheerfully sits between us and sways her tail back and forth, lovingly gazing up at LaHaise with big glassy eyes while brushing her whiskers fondly in her lap. Summer is a wonderfully tempered lab and retriever mix, with a golden coat and an intense stare. Since LaHaise rescued her as a puppy, Summer has acted as the artist’s inspiration, muse, and loyal companion. She was the first dog LaHaise ever painted, establishing the start of her everlasting artistic journey focused on painting dogs.
LaHaise gushed that she has found the most enjoyment and satisfaction of her career since she began the dog paintings. This also led to her resolution to make dogs her exclusive subject matter. “I am lucky to have found something that I love to do, and to have found something that I find so rewarding,” LaHaise affirmed.
The greatest compliment she received was when an interior designer visited “Gallery 414” on behalf of Julia Szabo, an author she greatly admires. The three LaHaise paintings the designer purchased appeared in Szabo’s latest book, “Animal House Style: Designing a Home to Share with Your Pets.”
“I feel great praise when I see my work acknowledged in that way, and it’s always such a compliment when people express approval for work that I have done from personal inspirations, not only for paintings that are commissions,” she commented.
LaHaise finds profound inspiration from stray and abandoned dogs and turns to petfinder.com and other pet adoption websites to find them. Reading the dogs’ individual stories and noticing the intensity of their stares, she finds herself painting them “to give them a voice” and to provide these sad animals with the recognition she feels they deserve.
Many of her most powerful paintings evoke deep emotions and extreme passion and are assisted by a concentrated palette of bright and intense colors, fast swirling brush-strokes, and the employing of thick impasto paint, often raised and literally dripping off the canvases.
“I prefer painting dogs to painting people… I guess that they are easier to deal with,” LaHaise commented, providing explanation for her refusal to ever paint dogs with their owners. Aside from removing herself from the vanity more often associated with people than with animals, LaHaise admits that for her it is far easier to find a connection with dogs as subjects when painting. “Dogs are just so honest, so unexpecting, and have great qualities that I find easy to understand and relate to,” LaHaise observed. She finds affinity with mutts like Summer in particular, always enjoying supporting the ‘underdog’.
“I just hope to validate dogs, and dogs-as-subject-matter. They are often so overlooked and not treated seriously, and I don’t hope this for my paintings or for the dogs themselves,” she explained. Aside from the artist’s ambition to provide dogs with a voice and the right to be noticed, LaHaise hopes for her work to be perceived as free, modern, and above all to speak for itself.