Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Cat in the Art World...

Published: February 9 2008 on Helium

The roles of the cat in the art world mainly range from sacred deity to beauteous role model of dignified indifference.
In more recent years, the cat is also becoming a source of whimsical amusement in art.
This particularly applies to the art of photography, cartoon and film.

In ancient times, a fragment of art from the palace walls of Minoan Crete, dated c.1600-1580B.C., depicts a cat behind a bush stalking a pheasant. And an inlaid bronze dagger blade (c.!600-1500B.C.) from royal tombs at Mycenae depicts a hunting cat. This "royal" art implies that the cat was given a significant level of respect in ancient societies.

But it is in ancient Egyptian art where the cat is given god status.
Many bronze statues of cats have been found in royal tombs. Cats featured frequently in royal hunting friezes on tomb walls. The cat was sacred to the Egyptian goddess Bast, protector of cats, women and children. She was the goddess of the sunrise and of sensual pleasure.
By association, a cat in Egyptian art became a symbol of sacred sensuality.

Perhaps, cat sensuality in art must have its most bizarre example in Edouard Manet's 1863 painting "Olympia". This confrontational view of a nude, reclining female created an uproar in the art world. But interestingly, Manet was inspired to produce his infamous painting "when he saw his lynx point siamese (complete with necklace) sprawled seductively on the sofa and his black-faced sealpoint siamese sitting patiently beside her." www.thecatgallery.com

However, it is from the 20th century that "cat art" has taken many forms.

Books combine artistic photographs or sketches of cats with narrative. Paul Gallico published "Silent Miaow". This is a quirky manual for homeless cats, instructing them how to attract suitable owners. The text is combined with 200 delightful black and white photographs. Then there is T. S. Eliot's humorous verse in "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats". Comic, cartoon cat art by Nicolas Bentley accompanies the 1940 publication. My favorite is "Macavity: The Mystery Cat". The illustration is of an Indian snake charmer and snake petrified by a cat rising in the air. And finally, there is "Vavra's Cats" by Robert Vavra. This book is a beautiful, romantic, photographic fantasy of cats dressed up and posing, almost regally for the camera. Apart from Vavra's own reflections interspersed among the photographs, there are quotes from Ernest Hemingway, Paul Gallico, Rudyard Kipling and Joy Adamson.

Eve Riser-Roberts paints "cat parodies". For example, she has replicated the style of Van Gogh's "Sunflower" painting and included a cat, eating the sunflowers. She has parodied Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and painted a screaming cat on a bridge, watched by a couple of "prostitute" cats.

Cats have a major role in the art of the cartoon world.
Felix the cat has been a favorite newspaper cartoon feature since 1919. And Sylvester, always trying to outsmart the elusive Tweetie Pie, has long been a well-known cartoon in the film world, loved by children and adults alike.

Cat art has even entered the more commercial art world.
There are cat calendars, special occasion greeting cards, post cards, stationery, tea towels, placemats and coasters and even cushions and curtains. I even admit to owning an umbrella featuring a range of beautiful cats. In fact, anything that can be printed with a design is likely to include cat art.

For many people, cats bring out a sense of the inner divinity, of feeling at "homey" peace, the inner sensual. Cats inspire and are themselves art. Not too much has really changed since ancient times, where cats and humans are concerned.

In conclusion, I feel my fridge magnet states the all-round "art" of the cat:
"The difference between cats and dogs is that dogs come when called but cats take a message and get back to you."

The cat is an enigma that art never tires of exploring.

No comments:

Post a Comment