I recently read an article where I learned that Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo sold at auction, two paintings done by Towan, a 40 year-old orangutan for $1,300. The article reminded me of a book I bought at a used bookstore two years ago for the princely sum of three dollars titled “Why Cats Paint – a theory of feline aesthetics”. Published in 1994, it originally cost $20 bucks, so I was very proud of my three-dollar investment, especially since the book was full of fantastic colored pictures of furry critters engaged in various acts of creativity. I must admit that I had a slight sense of doubt when I read the two author’s biographies on the book’s jacket. Heather Busch apparently opened the world’s first gallery exclusively for cat art and had been President of the American Cat Art Verification Board while Burton Silver had written books on such goodies as aesthetics of ornithological dejecta (bird shit) and contemporary erotic Japanese paper sculpture. You think this book was written as a joke? Think again, these two authors take their subject deadly seriously. But to me photographs of cats are like Sirens to Ulysses, so I went on to read the book.
The first photo showed “Orangello”, yup, an orange feline, at an easel, painting a parrot that he is looking straight at on the lawn right in front of him. Since he has apparently just been fed, he is painting the bird; we are told, as “a mood piece rather than a representational work”. From there it only gets better. The second photo shows the rear end of a cat with the tail twisting to the left, corresponding to the position of a question mark; I’ll let you guess what constituted the dot in the question mark. The book’s conclusion was that that is what gave early civilization the notion of making a question mark when they were inventing the alphabet.
The book then launched into a historical analysis of cats and art. My favorite was about the famous English cat of the late 1800’s advertised as “Mrs. Broadmoore’s Amazing Painting Cat Mattisa, the greatest Marvel of Nature.” The feline was so amazing that Mrs. Broadmoore was able to collect a pound note (no small sum in the 19th century), from anyone wanting a portrait painted of them by Mattisa. Who was Mrs. Broadmoore? A fat man named James Blackmun, formerly a strongman-clown at a Barnum and Bailey circus, now dressed in appropriate female attire.
Finally, the book listed a virtual cornucopia, nay a menagerie of talented modern day felines who apparently, are more successful in the art world than many of us currently reading this e-mail.
Pinkle – arranges magnetic colored letters on the refrigerator into color groups.
Buster – copies a reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. Why doesn’t it look like sunflowers? Well apparently because “the cat may be stimulated to paint by localized low energy force fields known as Points of Harmonic Resonance.”
Lu Lu and Wong Wong – paint an abstract triptych and the book informs us that Lu Lu signals his completion of the triptych by licking Wong Wong all round her face. You think that’s none sense? The triptych sold at a 1993 auction for $19,000.
Pepper – does self-portraits in acrylic. He paints with his painting paper right next to a mirror and the caption states “Pepper will spend up to two hours carefully examining himself in a mirror before commencing a self-portrait. Never mind the fact that self-recognition is so complex that humans can’t do it until somewhere between 18 and 24 months from their birth. So far the only animals besides us who can recognize their own image are apes, dolphins and elephants. Oh by the way, Pepper does paint other cats as well but, as the book mentions, “often fights with his model Venus during their painting sessions.” I can relate to that.
Tiger – also works on triptychs and is considered to be a “Spontaneous Reductionist”. Unfortunately, the photograph shows Tiger tearing his paintings off the wall and then ripping them to shreds. Well, which of us has not done that at some point in our careers.
Misty – is labeled as a “Formal Expansionist” and painted a painting titled “Interring the Terrier” that shows, what else, a small headless dog being stuffed inside a red armchair by two frogs and a sardine”. You laugh again? It sold at auction for $21,000.
Minnie Monet Manet – Painted a painting titled “Three Blind Mice” which was exhibited in a French Gallery that the catalog described as “Three dreary monochromatic daubs with single trickles of excess paint running from each of them evidently meant to represent blind mice.” I wonder if changing my name to Rene Monet Manet would get me a show in a Paris gallery?
Smokey – is described as a “Romantic Ruralist” who uses catnip before painting to “intensify the harmonic resonance experience.” Smoky also tells its owner where to leave his paints and easel by “flamboyantly marking the spot with urine.” Oh, did I forget to mention that he got $6,000 for one of his paintings?
Ginger Katdinsky – is described as a Neo-Synthesist who is so sensuous a cat that she rubs against her paintings to gather pigments onto her fur then expands her art to cover every window in the house.
Princess – is described as an “Elemental Fragmentist” who switches on a synthesizer (you can see all her paw prints on the keys) then creates by making claw marks on painted fiberboard, which the book points out as constituting “totemic simplicity.”
Charlie – is described as a “Peripheral Realist” because silly, he paints on the refrigerator then checks it out with his peripheral vision.
Bootsie – is titled a “Trans-Expressionist” who sold a painting titled “Hands Up! Mr. Rooster” for $15,000 as well as winning the Zampa d’Oro (Golden Paw) award at the Exposizione dell’Arte Felino in Milan. As of the book’s publishing, Boootsie had sold $75,000 worth of art.
Rusty – is a “Psychometric Impressionist” who always paints on glass. Why? So that “he can keep in constant touch with the object and allow the essence of its ‘significant past’ pervade his sensibilities as he paints.”
Believe me there are many more examples, like the cat that tears the hell out of an armchair, which is then titled “Oedipus Opening”, get it? It all makes a grown up artist want to cry. But rather than fight all of this feline competition, I’m seriously contemplating selling some of the clever installations that my favorite cat Inga, a very precocious girl, creates on a regular basis; you know, like the other day when she dumped two balls into her litter box which I could title, “Two Balls In Merde”.