It was entirely appropriate that TLC graduate student, Emily Woods, aspiring police-lady, animal lover and artist, was the one to paint Gazza's portrait.
For those of you who don’t know, Gazza, a four-year old police dog, was killed in a Porirua shooting on the 22nd of April 2016. Gazza was shot dead at the scene during an armed incident with an offender which drew armed police and a helicopter to the neighbourhood. It is believed that he blocked a gunshot meant for his handler Constable Josh Robertson.
Prior to this tragedy, last year, the German Shepherd survived being strangled by a burglar. He also had his ears twisted during a 3km pursuit through Wellington’s outer areas.
Gazza was described by Josh in an interview for stuff.co.nz as being his ‘best mate’. “He was our boy. At home he was a big goober…All he wanted to do was carry his rugby ball around and be with us.”
In New Zealand, police dogs are used to help track down criminals, sniff out illegal substances, search buildings and hold and detain fleeing criminals. Hundreds of police dogs put their lives on the line everyday to protect and serve our communities.
Emily Woods first heard about this sad incident through social media posts on the Dog Squad and Wellington District web pages.
The decision to paint the portrait of Gazza came from her personal empathy with animals as well as with the handler. “I couldn’t help but think how horrific that moment must have been for him, and the other officers. It absolutely breaks my heart thinking about the poor dog that made the ultimate sacrifice… Eventually I want to be a dog handler myself...I guess it’s a wake up call about how dangerous, and how emotionally difficult that job would actually be.”
Emily was motivated by a strong desire to give Gazza’s handler something to remember his loyal companion by. She couldn’t bring him back, but she knew she could immortalize him in paint.
“It’s my job, as a part of this community, to give back in any way I can. The police (human and dog alike) put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe. If I can utilise the skills I have to give something back, why wouldn’t I?”
The biggest challenge for Emily in producing Gazza’s portrait was in capturing his personality and a true likeness. Having not met Gazza before, this was difficult to achieve. “Knowing the character of animals (or people) really helps you to capture them better in paint.” Emily attempted to overcome this by watching videos of Gazza which she found online, as well as sourcing any images she could find from the Dog Squad Facebook page.
Emily got in touch with local police to meet with Constable Josh Robertson, Gazza’s handler, to give him the portrait in person. Afterwards, word soon got out on Facebook.
True-blue Gazza will also be remembered with a plaque at the Police Dog Training Centre in Trentham – his name sitting alongside other police dogs killed whilst on duty. Part of the police dog breeding programme, Gaza’s legacy will continue to live on in future puppies like Kazza, a new police puppy.
Emily has been refining her oil painting technique since studying creativity and art at TLC and finds painting portraits of animals to be very relaxing, almost meditative. She loves portrait work or as she puts it ‘pawtrait’ work. To her, pets are like children; they are family, and she herself lives at home surrounded by five dogs and three cats.
You can see more of Emily’s ‘pawtrait’ work on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/kythrieartist/. She also paints the female form and has produced some fantastic fantasy art, with a lot of her humanoid works using the female figure. Take a look and get in touch with her if you are interested in commissioning a work.
Want to paint animals like Emily, draw the human figure or create fantasy art? We cater for all themes and skill levels at The Learning Connexion School of Art and Creativity – from the absolute beginners to more experienced artists. Call us on 0800 278 769 or request a prospectus to find out more about what we have to offer you.