I could start writing about Famous Artists’ Cats almost anywhere. The art is timeless, and the cats? They don’t care as long they have something interesting to keep their lightning quick minds stimulated.
Billy & George Explore
As you and I look at the often funny, sometimes beautiful pictures Deborah Julian dreams up when she puts cats and famous artists together and tells them to mix it up, we are going to jump around in time. We will abandon all ideas about order, as I believe cats do all the time, and follow their example in sticking with what feels most interesting in the moment.
Every cat I know hates boredom. Great art avoids it or fails to be great. They are meant for each other.
Even so, I have no choice but to begin somewhere. For this introduction, I’ll start at the beginning. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Of course I know that cats often make no sense at all as far as anyone can tell, a trait shared with a lot of art. But no cats, as far as I know, will be flipping the pages of this book. We humans are stuck with our storytelling heritage. I will ask, however, that if you meet any of our cats, you keep this topic out of the discussion.
Deborah Julian’s love for cats swelled into fascination with her first adoption, George, a rescue cat she carried home from the Humane Society on East 59th Street in Manhattan. We took the Roosevelt Island Tram over to volunteer as dog walkers on Saturdays. Our community on Roosevelt Island, a short hop halfway across the East River, banned dogs as part of its earliest development plans, spurred into such bad judgment by the pooper scooper wars that then raged in the city.
The “city of tomorrow,” as Roosevelt Island was expected to become, would not be littered with canine residue on every block. All that changed, but not in time to save our home from being ruled by cats.
We got our canine fix by leashing up the eager dogs housed at the Humane Society and taking them strolling around the neighborhood. Saddened at returning them to their cages, we soon got an itch to adopt an animal with whom we could share our home.
A pair of longhaired dachshunds were almost enough to get us to break our lease, but a cat was our more sensible choice, and through his antic behavior, George made sure Deborah picked him.
Whenever my wife wandered into his line of vision, George began whipping around the litter in his cage like he had committed his life to digging through to China. Fast. Then, once he had her attention, he looked her in the eye as if to say, “You’re here for me. Let’s go.”
George was a natural clown, and he was perfect for us.
Deborah’s love for art came first, although George soon made the competition fierce. It was inevitable, I guess, that they would merge.
But George was not her first model. While she knocked herself out with study and term papers,
Prepared to Help
working on her second degree, this time in art history, Deborah treasured his companionship.
While she pounded away on her word processor, her new best friend fought off sleep on the desk beside the clattering machine, once passing out with a shocking thump in spite of himself.
Sometimes, he napped voluntarily, using the nearby telephone as a pillow.
But when it came time to create something that later evolved into her Famous Artists’ Cats series, George wasn’t considered. After all, he was already busy as an art history assistant.
The original idea was simple enough. Our niece, a dancer, had a birthday coming up. Deborah decided to do something different, create a ballet-inspired birthday card, and include our niece’s recently adopted cat as a model.
Punky is a golden tiger cat, making him an exciting match for Edgar Degas’s beautiful pastels of dancers in Paris.
Deborah gave Punky a ribbon to play with and escorted him to the studio where Degas’s ballerinas were stretching on an exercise bar. Ballet Class Visitor grew to be one of her most popular works, but a few years passed before she realized the possibilities.
Put more clearly, it wasn’t until George had been joined by a second cat, Billy, that a bigger idea was forced on her.
Working on street photography, developing, cutting, matting, etc., she balanced her concentration between her projects and George and Billy’s desire to get involved, to “help out.”
Cats minds crave stimulation. Interaction with the world around them is as irresistible as it is for a child. Although many artists — Matisse, Picasso, Klimt, Klee and others — have openly loved cats and invited them into their studios, the interactions aren’t always seamless. Cats’ priorities conflict with the artists’.
Cats, for example, will relax happily on any printed paper, including the photographic variety, laid flat in their realm.
One day, Deborah threw up her hands and wondered out loud, “What would famous artists do, if they had my cats?”