Posts Tagged ‘feline’


They hung it in the dark corner behind the piano.

There were three jurors and it’s easy to guess that one of them liked it and the other two saw it as an embarrassing nick-knack,  cringed and then finally conceded.  A purple brocade cat in a rococo-meets- goth frame!

I must be the only art lover on this Rothko and O’Keefe loving North Shore who’s taking this cat seriously.  In an ironic way, of course.

It’s not a cat. It’s the mythology of The Cat and the cobwebs of superstition that cling to the feline.

MoreauSphinx500I’m reminded of Gustav Moreau (1826-1898), who, good death- obsessed Victorian male that he was, illustrated mythological scenes.  The sphinx bit, for example.  Can you come up with a more ridiculous image than this one showing Oedipus gazing into the eyes of a winged cat woman? She has jumped on him and, gravity-defying, clings to his naked torso, while leaving him calm, classically poised and unscratched.  The cat-sphinx has to be a woman, of course, because the ancients enslaved and objectified women as property and then dealt with the accompanying neurosis by mythologizing them.

The sphinx, as everyone knows, is an invention of the Egyptians, another death-obsessed culture.  The Egyptians projected Sphinx-knows-what into their pussy-cats, but it must have been some major repression, because they embalmed their dead house cats by the thousands.  Archeologists keep finding these crypts full of embalmed cats.

The cat as the feminine and the cat as the chthonic come together here:  fear of the female/other and fear of death/change, all rolled up into one musty-moldy cat mummy.

I’m sorry the artist of “Nightshade,” Beth Clark-McDonal, was not awarded a one-month show of her own.  I would love to see fifty of her cat paintings in one exhibit, all in purples and pinks, paisley and sinewy, and in overwrought, antiqued frames. Let’s face it.  Let’s!  Whatever cat-superstition lingers in your psyche and in our Hollywooded, scapegoating culture, let’s just have a good look at it.  Let’s not call it kitsch, cringe in embarrassment  and hang it in the dark corner there.  Bring it out into the open.  Oh, my, so this is part of our dark side.

Would a kitsch-cat exhibit be funny?  Sure.  There would be nervous giggles from us Rothko lovers who feel we have moved beyond art-fair paintings of kitty cats.  But a third, let’s say half, let’s say more than half of the folks seeing the show  would lap it up, like warm milk in a porcelain bowl.

I can’t prove this, I haven’t interviewed the artist, but here’s my take:  “Nightshade” is painted—and framed–with deliberate irony.  I actually think it’s a sophisticated, post-modern piece.  It made me think and therefore it’s not kitsch.

(After an exhibit of cat paintings, we could do unicorns, Manga, big-eyed children, and Matrix tubing.)

Gustav Moreau may look like a timid illustrator of useless myths from an ancient culture that his own tired time clung to.  He may also have been a satirist. I prefer that interpretation.  It cheers me up.

In either case, he was Matisse’s teacher.  So, you see, there’s hope.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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