Dog lovers, take note: “Running Dogs” in the running for ArtPrize

Kent Ambler has been running with dogs most of his life. Beginning Sept. 19, he’s hoping the hundreds of thousands of ArtPrize visitors will do the same.

Ambler, a native of northwest Indiana now living in Greenville, S.C., will be displaying his “Running Dogs” exhibit at DeVos Place Convention Center in this year’s ArtPrize, which runs from Sept. 19-Oct. 7.

Running Dogs features 100 dogs painted on wood panels. The dogs, Ambler said, are an interpretation of those he and his wife, Peggy, have owned throughout the years, as well as dogs he has sketched while visiting friends, relatives and animal shelters.

“I’ve had dogs since I was born,” Ambler said in a phone interview. “These are an amalgamation of all the different dogs I’ve had, or friends dogs and whatnot. They’re based on a boxy-looking Shar Pei mix. I made templates sketched out from old drawings and I use the basic shapes of dogs.

“When I paint them, it’s more intuitive. I don’t know when I start how it will look when I’m finished. I just start painting the cutout panels I’ve made… it’s not based solely on dog XYZ, it’s an intuitive approach.”

Each dog panel — Ambler uses 15 different templates of dogs he has sketched over the years before painting — is about 30 inches wide by 18 inches high. His exhibition space is 7 feet high by 60 feet long. Each dog will “float” and inch or so off the wall of a corridor at DeVos. Ambler installed the piece on Sept. 4 and will be returning for the private ArtPrize Artist  party on Sept. 16.

He’s hoping he has to return Oct. 5, when the Top Ten vote-getters are announced. Should Ambler win the grand prize of $200,000, he plans to help out — what else? — dogs. Aside from expanding his current studio, Ambler said he will donate $10,000 to the ASPCA and also will help out a few dog rescues in the Greenville area with cash donations.

With 1,517 artists competing at 162 venues this year, Ambler said he’s optimistic about his location.

“I combed through all the venues and found about 12 that would work for my exhibit,” Ambler said. “So, I made my profile and connected with the venues. Of the 12 I selected, six declined, so then it was sort of a waiting game. Finally, I heard from DeVos Place Convention Center and it worked out.”

Last year’s ArtPrize winner, Mia Tavonatti‘s mosaic “Crucifixion,” had DeVos Place as its venue.

“It’s a huge space, and there’s a good thing about being in a space like that,” Ambler said. “It has multiple artists. There are 54 artists in there, and people tend to go to venues where they can see a bunch of things rather than a restaurant where there might be one thing there and they had to walk eight blocks to see it.

“Hopefully, it works to my benefit.”

Ambler, whose work is featured in galleries in Asheville, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.;, Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Vicksburg, Miss., among others in the southwest, also works with woodcuts, block constructs and sculpture, He said he usually attends festivals and shows within an 8-hour radius of his home, but once a year goes outside those boundaries.

Last year, he did Madison, Wis. Next year, he’s hoping to make it to a festival in Kalamazoo in June. This year, it’s ArtPrize.

Ambler has recruited one of his three dogs, Grubby, to help him get out the vote. Grubby has his own Twitter account (@GrubbytheDog) and has taken over Ambler’s Facebook page. A postcard Ambler had made for the event features a photo of Grubby telling people about Running Dogs, including the code to vote via text for it, and about ArtPrize in general.

Grubby, a mixed breed who is part Shar Pei by the looks of him, is 9. He was adopted from a shelter, as were his “sister” dogs, Spooky and Pixie. Spooky, a 4-year-old mix, likely also is part Shar Pei. Pixie, who is 2, is anybody’s guess.

“She’s about 30 pounds, but it’s a dense 30 pounds, like with a Jack Russell,” Ambler said. “But she’s black and brown, and she’s got that curly tail, so it’s hard to say what she is.”


Grubby, with artist Kent Ambler’s wife, Peggy (left), Pixie (center) and Spooky.