The Feline Muse


Annie Przypyszny

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There’s never been a shortage in history of cat-inspired art. From engravings on ancient Egyptian tombs, to Japanese woodblock prints, to Victorian greeting cards, cats feature prominently in many influential art periods. 

I, myself, am a dedicated viewer of cat-related artwork. If you took a tour of my room (please don’t), you’d find upon the walls, among other cat decor, a Le Chat Noir postcard, an assortment of lucky cat figurines, an Aristocats poster, and, perhaps, an actual live cat sitting on my bed. To me, there’s nothing more worthy of artistic representation than a cat. The Mona Lisa? Uninspired. The Mona Lisa but with her face painted as a cat’s? A masterpiece. Given my elite taste in cat art, I thought I’d use my expertise to showcase three contemporary artists whose works are heavily influenced by the feline muse. 

I want to start with B. Kliban. Would you believe me if I told you that Kliban’s depictions of rotund, bug-eyed cats engaging in humorous activities such as drinking fish tea, or having a boxing match with a mouse, first appeared in Playboy? His cat cartoons grew so popular that he ended up publishing several books devoted solely to them. Oh, yes, Kliban made quite the profit in his lifetime from his signature merch, all thanks to his knee-slappingly clever feline creations. Kliban’s cats are a delight: their distinct personalities shine in each illustration. They’re the kind of cats that make you go, “Hey, that cat’s doing human stuff, but with a cat-related twist.” And who doesn’t love that? Kliban’s aesthetic is consistent, yet each cartoon is new and exciting, and dare I say, uniquely thought-provoking. For you have to wonder, when a Kliban cat stares into the mirror, donning his Groucho Marx glasses … what is it he really sees?

Another artist famous for their experimentation in cat art is the imaginative Laurel Burch. Self-taught, Burch began her artistic career selling Jewelry in San Francisco, and, throughout the course of her life, has produced quite a repertoire of colorful, whimsical cats, as well as other animals, such as parrots, butterflies, and horses. Perhaps her works’ most notable feature is her use of bold pigments, which I find reminiscent of stained glass. When combined with her paintings’ natural inspiration, her colors create a whole other world, one that, for all its brightness, is incredibly calming. Like Kliban’s feline subjects, Burch’s cats or not what we might call slender. The head-to-body ratio of her cats adds to the magical atmosphere of her work. All in all, Burch’s art is a celebration: of cats, of nature, of life itself. I can never view her work without feeling like my day has gotten a little better.

I will conclude with an artist who, unlike the former two, is still alive, and making recent contributions to the art world. Higuchi Yuko’s art can be described in many ways: fantastical, surreal, enchanting, and, yes, a bit creepy. But in a good way! Higuchi is a cat lover, tried and true: her relationship with her cat, Boris (a handsome lad!) makes her cat-inspired art all the more exceptional. The cats in Higuchi’s art are one-of-a-kind. Often standing bipedally, and wearing clothes that I would lovingly describe as indie-hipster-retro-chic, Higuchi’s cats are impossible to look away from. Go ahead. Try. See, you can’t! If you need more convincing as to Higuchi Yuko’s cool-factor, Gucci has recently collaborated with her, launching some stylin’ Gucci Junior/Baby clothes. So if you love Higuchi’s art, and have a Junior/Baby that you’re willing to shell out $400+ for, now’s your chance! Regardless, I suspect we’ll be hearing more and more about Higuchi Yuko as more people discover her awe-inspiring assortment of whimsical cats.

Cat art is hard to pull off. Rarely are humans fully capable of representing cats on canvas with the justice they deserve. Yet, somehow, Kliban, Birch, and Higuchi manage to create cat-inspired artworks that an actual cat might view and think: “this piece of art represents my cat-ness to-a-t, and I wholeheartedly commend the artist for their exquisite craftsmanship.” I hope these artists and their work have inspired warm and fuzzy feelings within you, dear reader. Cat art is, I believe, a rare comfort in this rough and tumble world.