That time when Louis Wain did Futurist Cats
Louis Wain is one of those artists whose stature grew immensely in 21st Century due to rise of the LolCat phenomenon. Sometimes they’re little bit funny, other times they’re little bit sad and then they get really weird. And then even beyond weirdest weirder weird (spell it fast five times). What is uncanny is that no matter how odd the picture looks — you can always relate to it. There’s so much heart in his drawings it gives you the brightness to carry on. And not in the sentimental way — like street fighting stray cat with swagger big enough to make Pluto a planet again.
Curiously, Louis Wain is also one of those artist whose works shows how the times and aesthetics have changed over the course of late 19th-early to mid 20th centuries. It is fascinating to surf chronologically through his works.
Technically speaking, he was drawing in the genre of Singerie but instead of monkeys who were aping human behavior he depicted cats. His cat pictures are entire universe of its own kind. It is everything you’ve ever needed with cats. Kitties doing strolls, kitties arguing, kitties being frisky, kitties being serious, kitties going batshit, kitties going apeshit, kitties being chickenshit, etc. It was incredibly popular in Britain. Louis Wain was a postcard juggernaut. From 1901 to 1915 he even had his own Louis Wain Annual.
He began with relatively realistic drawings. As time went by and his skills improved he started to bring stylistic diversity to the picture. He added impressionist “right here right now”-feel. Then he intensified gestures and grimaces. Then he added a bit of expressionist streak. Drawings gradually morphed into more expressive and intense. Near the end of his life he was firmly in the abstract realm doing cat-infused fractal compositions. Some say it was due to his deteriorating mental health (he was diagnosed with schizophrenia) but it is up to debate. I think it mental issues could’ve been a factor but not as critical as it is sometimes stated. It seems like he was more interested in trying new things with his theme and was keen to use any style he could.
In 1914 Futurism was red hot and so he tried Futurism. He designed Futurist Cats. And they look amazing. You can view them as an ancestors of The Metallian — Judas Priest mascot of Defenders of the Faith era. Wain even managed to organize an exhibition. His experiments met somewhat mixed response. One critic even stated that “Mr. Wain is a poor futurist because his futurist cats are still recognizable as cats”.
The figures are organized on cubist methods of decomposing and recomposing the figures with cubes and parallelograms in villainously violent” colors. The bodies are covered in cryptic “Meow meow” notes. Face are composed of simple straight lines over the flat surfaces. Most of the figures were utilitarian flower pots. The other were “lucky charms” with notes like “I will fight your battles for you and help you to clear troubles in all that is right.” (now that’s a line you can whisper in the girls ear).
The cats bear names: the Sphinx Cat, the Mascot Cat, the Master Cat, the Mystic Cat, the Good Luck Cat, and the Road Hog Cat. For reasons of diversity — there are also Lucky Pigs and Lucky Bulldogs.
I’ve found these clips several years ago while surfing through Beinecke library. In the following clip you can read a story of how he “succumbed to futurism” Check it out:
And here are some modern photos for a better look: