In 2008, I was commissioned to make a work for The Cat Protection Society.
Because of the current poor standing of cats in our native orientation mindset and the extent that I was caught up in that, I was initially doubtful about what I might offer however, once I started drawing cats, to warm myself for the project, I found I could not stop. I have the ability to suspend my beliefs if I can see an opportunity to explore a theme that has potential.
(I could smell a rat. The cat within was stirring.)
All of the cats I had known and owned or loved and loathed came back to me. I started drawing cats and I found that I had thousands of cats embedded in my memory or my unconscious and I only had to scratch or rub them a bit and they would spring to life. They poured out of me initially through the brush and ink onto paper and then more fulsomely through the circular saw when I came to apply the drawing discoveries to plywood.
Among cats there is a disproportionate number that are beautiful compared to say, human beings. It is rare that one is not held up in one's tracks in the face of the beauty of any of one of them. I found that I had all these ideas about them, about their singular properties of shape colour texture pose and movement but also in their relations to other cats; how the spaces between the cats spoke as much as the cats themselves.
Cats are almost without exception narcissistic, because of their assets. Everything they do is dedicated to appearance, from cleaning themselves to stealing down the street, to sleeping and yawning, scratching and ignoring stuff. Every expression gives forth a body shape. Their shapes almost work as accurately as an alphabet of letters. They are legible and their lives are narrated. While they can be grouped as they are here, they tend to exist in their own private 'catual' (actual) space. They overlap only when mating or fighting.
As a consequence of these perceived qualities, there is much to draw from. It is perhaps these qualities also that has served them so well over the years that a lot of them live agreeable lives and also that they often enjoy a social position. I recently heard that dogs have masters and cats have staff.
The completed commissioned work is now installed in The Cat protection Society at Enmore. Sponsors of that organisation are able to purchase a stainless steel cat from a wall of cats. When their cat is removed, its negative is reveals a painted fur-like negative. The removal of a cat serves to reveal another.
The plywood cats
are made by dragging the blade of a circular saw across the face of the wood. By setting the blade to cut to a particular depth, a different colour of ply can be revealed. You can also raise and lower the blade as you sweep across the ply to make tabbies or mottled cats.
The cats were always revealed in the cutting without preconception. The plywood carving was completed by the end of 2008.
Having come back to them now after a year or so, I have been able to see those carvings as raw material to be reinterpreted. I have reconfigured the long panels into three-panel units and painted the top surface of the plywood.
The colour induces a long range legibility which works as an invitation to come closer. The colour also works as a colour field to accommodate the cats. The colour bends or ripples the ground and serves to integrate the three panels into one object. In a conventional landscape rectangle format the works have a more workable proportion than the single long rectangular panels in which they were initially configured.
since early in my art career has been to paint. My nature however has induced me to find insufficient sustenance in applying the paint to a surface. I have always needed to take a blade or a hammer to the surface to find release and so it is with these works that I have used a circular saw to sweep across the surface to unwrap the cats hidden in the plywood.
With my last exhibition at Australian Galleries I had carved the wood to reveal the colour. In that instance the uncarved surface retained its original woodenness while the carved parts were coloured. With this work the wood is carved again to reveal the various cat configurations which are not painted. With this new work, only the surface in front of the carving is painted.
As with all artists I am attempting to make work which places me and my experience in my time. With this work I have found a platform for my ability to conjure animal likenesses and mix that with a predisposition for abstraction and colour. The work is a collision of two prevailing themes.