Labrador Dalí

Just like the scores of rock musicians who get rich by stealing guitar riffs from their heroes (insert Rolling Stone's flavor of the month here), the visual arts are rife with those who earn their way by impersonating the masters. Some overtly pay tribute, while others try to conceal their pilfering. But then there are those like Miami artist Kristen Thiele, whose exhibit "The Masterpieces" references the famous paintings of yore through a creative combination of humor and satire, honoring the classics while subtly inducing a good laugh as well.

A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Thiele has a solid understanding of the human figure -- she just prefers to paint cats and dogs. While her other collections feature compositions that are entirely original, the 16 paintings featured in "The Masterpieces" are oil-on-glass replications of famous masterworks, but with the human subjects replaced by animals. Because Thiele feels such an affinity toward the originals, executing such a concept was a bit of a challenge, she admits. "I really had to look at the works in a whole new way," Thiele says, "to paint in a manner outside of my own way of working in order to achieve the feel of the original work -- with my own twist, of course."

The results are as varied as the original paintings themselves, from Thiele's inventive take on Edouard Manet's Luncheon on the Grass to her rather hilarious version of Amadeo Modigliani's Reclining Nude. Though this sounds harmless enough, four of the paintings originally scheduled to be shown got the ax from gallery censors. Apparently, naked cats can be erotic. "In my defense, I would like to mention that cats are always naked," Thiele says, adding that she's not bitter about the gallery's decision. After all, being censored is a badge of honor for many artists, almost as gratifying as having Thiele remake one of your paintings -- even if she does turn the portrait of your mother into a dog.

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Jason Budjinski