Animator Uses Art to Overcome Depression in his Exhibition: Black Dog Failure

22 December 2014

A new exhibition at Toi Pōneke Gallery, Black Dog Failure, looks at artist Mark Antony Steelsmith’s struggle and conquest over the “black dog” of depression.

Mark Antony Steelsmith's 'black dog'

The Black Dog by Mark Antony Steelsmith


Through five animated video works, Steelsmith shows the failure of this black dog to determine his position in life.

The symbol of the black dog to signify depression dates back to Greek and Roman mythology. The concept was popularised more recently by Winston Churchill.  Steelsmith draws on this common understanding. “I have created a character which is partly malice, partly playful but always forebodingly present,” he explains. “A shadow that often sits just out of sight.”

Steelsmith’s animations use an unplanned mode of storytelling that comes when working at 8 frames per second, without a structured storyboard or narrative. Ideas come and go; a story may form but then disappear or get lost. With each taking about a month to produce, an animation could head in a totally different direction and suggest a narrative not originally expected.

Direct-film animation works, such as those by Len Lye, have influenced Steelsmith’s animation over the past 16 years; he has used similar approaches working with paint over video stills, cardboard cut-outs from printed video frames and the reworking of a single image to destruction.

Manager for Toi Pōneke Paora Allen says, “Toi Pōneke has an exciting cross-media programme lined up for 2015 and Mark Antony Steelsmith’s animations give us a strong start to our year.”

Over the last eight years, Steelsmith has exhibited in Wellington, Palmerston North and Whanganui, following a career in producing animations for music videos and children’s television. He studied Fine Arts at the Quay School of Arts in Whanganui (graduating in 1999 with a BFA) and at Massey University (graduating in 2011 with a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Arts). In 2015 he is studying for his Master of Fine Arts at Massey University.

Steelsmith will be holding a public talk at the gallery at 5.30pm on Thursday 30 January in which the themes, motivations, and craft behind the works will be discussed. He will also be holding an animation workshop from 10am–2pm on Saturday 7 February. The workshop will give participants a rare chance to play with hand-crafted animation. Spaces in the workshop are limited, so please contact Toi Pōneke Gallery to join the fun.

The exhibition Black Dog Failure is on at Toi Pōneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith Street.

Key dates:
Exhibition: 16 January – 7 February 2015
Artist Talk: Thursday 30 January 5.30pm
Animation Workshop: Saturday 7 February 10am – 2pm