photos courtesy of Karen and Tony Barone

by Gary Jordan

They say over time we all begin to resemble our pets, well what about a city, could the same be said for an entire population? What if Chicago or Denver were dogs, what kind of dogs will they be, and what will they look like? 

Celebrity artists Karen and Tony Barone think Palm Springs, California would be a pink poodle, which gave birth to the 7’3” Pink Poodle sculpture, titled "Monsieur Pompadour."  
 
After the birth of “Monsieur Pompadour” he and a companion piece, “Mademoiselle Coco,” an 8’4” Blue Point Siamese Cat, were acquired by the City of Palm Springs as part of its permanent Art-In-Public-Places collection, and installed in front of the cities new architecturally show-stopping animal shelter. During a formal ceremony to benefit the European Royalty Society, the Mayor  declare these sculptures as integral part of the Art-In-Public-Places permanaent collection. This statement  received thunderous applause from many art and animal lovers and other citizens of Palm Springs.   

It was only a matter of time before other critters followed the Barones, and the Coachella Valley desert has gone to the dogs. The Dalmatians breed became the inspiration of the “R. Hero” Dalmatians collection, a series of 6'2" aluminum puppy dog sculptures created to honor the firefighters Palm Springs, California. 

As a dog lover, and the owner of a rescue dog myself, I couldn’t wait to approach my Publisher/Editor, David Cohen, and offer to fly to Rancho Mirage to interview this eccentric couple, and get a chance to spend a few days at my favorite gay resort in Palm Springs.  

During my preparation and research for this interview, I have discovered that this laid back married couple, Karen and Tony Barone, have a lot more than the eye can reveal. Their artwork been exhibited and collected by afluent people from all over the world, and overnight they became famous and earned their status as the international talented renown artists who won many awards for their distinctive style in the field of paintings, sculptures, and ceramics. Some of their work was featured on the Muffin Top episode of the popular TV show Seinfeld. That didn't stop them for wanting and letting their creativity to explore more. They used their creativity and the ability to design some of Chicago's top notch interior design for The Brewery, Zanadu, and Tango restaurants.  But the trendy “The Great Gritzby’s Flying Food Show” won them multiple international awards in restaurants concept and design, all while operating from a horse farm they turned into a commercial design studio in Tennessee.  During those years in Chicago the couple met, fell in love, got married, and gain the global recognition that puled a worldwide sophisticated clientele to their front door. Commissioned for projects in Hong Kong, Taipei, Japan, Paris and London, The Barone became globetrotting jet set artists.

The “Dalmatian Nation" gave Karen and Toni the inspiration for the “R. Hero” dog sculpture project that became the couple's ArtAdoption new project, and for that reason only I wanted to meet this unusual artists.

I couldn't wait for the opportunity to ask Karen and Tony the questions regarding the essence and need to their creativity. Finally, sitting around the pool in their home in Rancho Mirage we began to talk.

Where did the inspiration for the dog sculptures come from?

Tony Barone: We were brainstorming one day (a/k/a foreplay) a couple of years back about how people look like their dogs and visa versa. We thought, what if Palm Springs was a dog, what would it look like? ‘Voila’ – “Monsieur Pompadour”! This year, Karen herself was the inspiration for the elegant, almost 7’ tall, Afghan dog sculptures that flanked the entrance to the “Big White Tents” during Fashion Week El Paseo 2012. The radiant all gold Afghan, “Monsieur D’Or” and the dazzling all silver Afghan, “Mademoiselle D’Argent” were subsequently juried into the City of Palm Desert 2013-14 El Paseo Invitational Exhibition and will grace the prestigious median strip along the world famous El Paseo shopping district starting in November. 

What is the purpose of the unusual concept you’ve initiated, called “ArtAdoption”?
The Barones reply, almost in unison, completing each others sentences: we have a vision for our artwork – it is to enrich public spaces by placing large-scale sculptures in communities across the United States.  We facilitate this through a funding concept we’ve created called “ArtAdoption.” Under our “ArtAdoption” program, the artwork is a gift to the community and is paid for by the sponsorship of private citizens or through the corporate and business sector. “ArtAdoption” projects give art enthusiasts and community-minded businesses an opportunity to acquire an extraordinary & significant work of art and gift it for the public good & enrichment. The municipality receives the gift for placement at a suitable public site and achieves the lofty goal of supporting the arts within the community without using funds raised through taxation.
    
How did the idea for “Dalmatian Nation” come about?
Karen: In a world that has become exceedingly dangerous and where war has no boundaries – we rely on our heroic firefighters more than ever. Living in a post 9/11 world, and with the repeated ravages of wildfires popping up across the country, we realized how much we rely on these brave men and women. We therefore created a unique series of 6'-2" tall aluminum Dalmatian puppy dog sculptures called “R. Hero.” The visually child-friendly sculptures are to be installed across the country at public sites (parks, museums, municipal buildings, fire stations, hospitals, schools, and other not-for-profits) as a means of honoring and bringing recognition to our valiant firefighters who save and rescue humans and animals alike. Through the creative & instructive expression of art, the “R. Hero” sculptures serve as a reminder of their indefatigable heroism. In addition to honoring firefighters, this project allows us the opportunity of achieving a personal goal to create large scale public art that will enhance the quality of life for individuals living in, working in, and visiting a city. Under our “ArtAdoption” program we have “restricted” the purchase of “R. HERO” to only those acquiring the work for donation for the “public good” for installation at an art-in-public-places site.   
The Dalmatian sculptures executed in different radiant colors allows for a citywide campaign that places different colored “R. HERO” sculptures at multiple site selections – We are passionate about making our “R. HERO” sculptures available to communities across America – thus creating a “Dalmatian Nation.” 

Was the city of Palm Desert the first to receive an “R. Hero”  in the Coachella Valley?
Yes, that’s correct, a purple “R. HERO” honoring firefighters was the first in a litter of four to be acquired under our ArtAdoption Program, gifted to the Art in Public Places Program of the City of Palm Desert, and installed in the median strip on El Paseo (The Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert) directly across from the Historical Society of Palm Desert - the city’s first fire station. It is sponsored by Jo Ann & Alan Horowitz, Esq., Contour Dermatology, and Orbit In Hotel, of Palm Springs.  The second “R. Hero”, which is bright green, was also acquired through our ArtAdoption Program and gifted by Rancho Mirage residents, Bunni & Rick Benaron, to the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, CA. It is installed in front of the Museum and faces the adjacent fire station. It really connects the dots for the hundreds of children visiting the museum daily.    Our bright blue “R. Hero” Dalmatian is being proposed as a gift to the Art in Public Places Program of the City of Palm Springs for placement at a Palm Springs Fire Station to become part of the cities permanent collection.    

That is so awesome. You mentioned earlier there were four puppies in the initial litter – what about the fourth Dalmatian, has he found a home yet?
Actually, there are now seven Dalmatians and more on the way. One we hope to have sponsored and placed in front of the Rancho Mirage Public Library and the others, as well as future Dalmatians, are waiting to be adopted and placed at additional Children’s Discovery Museums, fire stations, historical societies, libraries, parks, hospitals, etc. 

What additional sculptures do you have in the works, or are you concentrating primarily on your goal to literally create a “Dalmatian Nation?”
We currently are in different phases of completion on a set of three 7-1/2 foot modernist cat sculptures, a toy poodle, and a 6’-3” Scottie. 

When do you sleep?
Sleep! No time for that – only time for performing our art and enjoying fabulous meals with a lot of talk and laughter. Having been given the gift of each other and the ability to make art, we consider ourselves the luckiest two people on earth – who think and act as one. 

For more information on Karen and Tony Barone visit www.BaroneArt.com or www.facebook.com/baroneart. 
For up-to-the-minute information of where the little critter can be spotted visit  www.facebook.com/RHeroRM.