Cyrus Mejia's Vicktory Dogs: Dog pictures even cat people could love

(Cyrus Mejia's painting, "Denzel," from the "Vicktory Dogs" series now on view at the Link Gallery. Photo courtesy of La Casita.)

According to a recent "Miami Herald" article, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was due for release on Wednesday from federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, after 23 months behind bars for the Bad Newsz Kennels dog-fighting operation that savaged pit bulls and other dogs. Vick will be free from home confinement in July, but still on parole for three years.

Ever wonder what happened to the dogs who survived? Twenty-two wound up at Dogtown, the canine facility of the Best Friends Animal Society in the high southern desert of Utah. When New Orleans-born painter Cyrus Mejia moved to Utah in 1984, he and his wife and others founded Best Friends, the nation's largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals. As it happens, filmmaker and Syracuse-native Lorca Shepperd and her husband Cabot Philbrick worked on documentaries for "National Geographic" about the sanctuary's story that are now available on two DVDs, "Dogtown: Second Chances" (2008) and "Dogtown: New Beginnings" (2009).

Meanwhile, Syracuse University's Latino community cultural project La Casita has partnered with the Community Folk Art Center and VPA to bring Mejia's art here. On May 13, "Vicktory Dogs" opened at the Link Gallery at the Warehouse downtown, 22 Giclee prints of Mejia's portraits of the Vick dogs at Dogtown.

There's something about the eyes in these surprisingly affecting, small, square paintings that left person after person at last week's opening saying, "It's funny but they don't look vicious. They look gentle."

Mejia started out painting landscapes and retablos, traditional panels on wood honoring Catholic saints, before he encountered some research lab animals on a London trip. He's been painting animals ever since. "575" commemorates the number of unwanted dogs and cats who die each hour in US shelters. The "ARK" installations recall efforts to rescue the thousands of pets left behind when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August of 2005.

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