Do 'grams of those bitable ears, sweet, snuggle-me eyes, and that fuzzy snout all tangled up in toilet paper dominate your Insta' feed? If the answer is yes—#ilovemydog!—Brooklyn painter Mauro Baiocco will raise your obsession with furry BFFs to a fine art with acrylic renderings that distill mutty cuteness onto canvas with Big Eyes-style charm.
“One of the conscious decisions I made that seemed silly at first was using buttons for eyes," Baiocco says. But I think everybody just goes straight to memories of their teddy bear, and all that love just gets transported to my paintings immediately.” The artist’s ready-made line featuring animals includes not only his favorite dog breeds, like pugs and French bulldogs, but also foxes and frogs, owls and monkeys, and, of course, cats. Each one can be mounted on a vintage frame that, Baiocco says, along with the buttons, adds another layer of perceived personal history.
“Everybody has those pictures of their great-great-aunt or whoever that nobody remembers the name of, so these sort of become another addition to your collection of quirky family members.” And the juxtaposition between pop art colors and Old World frames “is just magic,” he says.
Though as much as we’d love to hang up a koala in a green jumper hugging his squid buddy (“Because he’s a sea captain, so, you know,” Baiocco says), it’s the bespoke works we’re most enamored of. The whisperer of the adorable will create custom artwork of your dog—accessorized with the pooch's favorite plaything to boot. In the neighborhood? The painter will even meet with your pet for a private sitting. “If people are in New York or willing to travel, I ask them to bring their dog to my studio so I get to see how it moves, to see the personality a little bit,” he says. If that’s not possible, Baiocco asks for details by phone or email and for as many pictures as the owner wants to send. “It’s a good rapport, just going back and forth. Pet owners—we’re all crazy. So these conversations can last a long time, and we end up being Facebook friends!”
Aside from toys, the artist sometimes pictures his subjects with pets of their own. He cites Edward Gorey as an influence, so lest you think Geoff & the Steak (pictured above in the artist's studio, painting at top left) is about to give Sanrio a run for it’s money, note the subtle dark humor in some of the compositions. “My first portrait was for a doggy that had a chewed-up toy that was disgusting. Never been washed, a hanging eye. I painted it,” he says. “But there’s always a little greediness and a little nervousness in the clutching of the object.” Baiocco says a lot of the scenarios he dreams up with the sole purpose of making himself laugh. “I have kitties hugging or holding little things they might be eating—you just don’t know! I try to give a look of terror to the mice. I crack myself up!”
Check out the Naughty & Nice shop on Etsy to get bowled over by Baiocco’s range of originals, from tiny, ornament-style pieces to prints of engravings that are available for framing with Victorian glass (for those who know to ask). In New York City during the end-of-the-year holidays, he and a fellow artist run Petroff and Gomez, a seasonal shop at Winter Village in Bryant Park. (N&N paintings run $25 for super minis up to $450 for portrait sizes.)
“When people come in, everybody’s melting at the sight of these cute and silly characters,” he says. But take care, because some of these little guys "are also bad boys, con artists." So if you do choose to take home a fawn with a pack of cigarettes tucked into his tee or a hippopotamus wearing a skull-emblazoned beanie, or, better yet, a teddy bear with a quincunx tat, here’s fair warning. Says Baiocco: "They play sweet but watch your wallet. They’ll take it!”
Though, in our experience, a dog with real, guilty eyes will probably just end up eating it—right after ditching the TP roll!
See Baiocco's painting of my Chihuahua, below, and see the portrait's snuggle-pup inspiration on Instagram.