Sunday, August 1, 2010
Cat painting by Louis Wain.
Once in a while, I’ll see a photograph or a piece of art that causes me to flash back upon a distant memory. I had that experience a week or so ago, when my lovely and talented sister-in-law Rebecca posted some images of her Horsy Artwork.
Just as they say to writers, “Write what you know,” that same advice is likewise appropriate for painters: “Paint what you know.” In Rebecca’s case, that’d be horses. Rebecca, you see, is a horsewoman whose side business is breeding Arabians. It’s only natural, therefore, that many of her Painterly Works feature said Arabians. But there was one in particular that caught my eye...
First, though, a bit of history.
Back in my Snot-Nose Days, my parents were great believers in the scholastic benefits of reading. Not only would they schlep me to the library every week, they stocked the house with Educational Literature.
When I was five years old, they bought a set of encyclopedias. Not Encyclopaedia Brittanica, mind you, but something a little more low-rent: Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia. Compton’s would later score an historical footnote by being the first outfit to offer a CD-ROM-based multimedia encyclopedia (multipedia?), but what I remember were those twenty-four heavy volumes, all bound in embossed black faux leather. I read them incessantly.
But then, things began to change.
At about the age of fifty, Wain began exhibiting the symptoms of adult-onset schizophrenia, becoming delusional and paranoid. And his once naturalistic kitty-paintings began taking an ominous turn.
Wain’s cats started to leer at the viewer, staring ominously, paisley patterns floating in the background. They seemed to radiate paranoia and fear.
Eventually, Wain’s cats became all but unrecognizable as cats, devolving into intricate fractal patterns. If you look hard enough, you can see a kitty in there somewhere, but it takes an effort of imagination.
The story of Louis Wain and the way his paintings mirrored the progressive deterioration of his mind made a strong impression on my pre-adolescent imagination. The story, of course, turns out to be not quite as simple as the Life Science Library presented it: Despite all those psychedelicats, Wain continued to paint completely naturalistic kitties through his entire career as well. But still... that book provided food for thought.
Fast forward to Rebecca and her artwork.
When I saw this - how do I describe it? - Electric Horsie, I felt a nagging at the back of my mind. Why did it look so familiar?
That’s when it struck me. Louis Wain! The Nutty Kitty Guy! That painting looked like Wain himself could have painted it... probably sometime between the time he started hearing voices in his head but before the onset of full-blown visual hallucinations.
Of course, none of this is meant to imply that Rebecca is ready for the rubber room... just that this one painting struck a chord and triggered an old memory! Hell, even Hakuna sometimes reminds me of a Louis Wain painting...