When considering the “artistic type,” many could be described as non-conformist, impulsive, or even introverted. It’s no surprise then that the typically aloof domestic cat makes the perfect pet for creative individuals. In fact, cats have inspired artists for centuries, serving as constant companions in artists’ studios. New to the My Modern Met store, Alison Nastasi’s book, Artists and Their Cats, features over 50 legendary creatives and the stories behind their feline friendships.
Believing that “behind many great artists is a great…cat,” Nastasi writes in the book’s introduction, “Many artists buck notions of a stereotypical temperament, but researchers have long speculated that creative individuals share common attributes—which mirror those of cats.” Accompanied by a series of endearing photographs of both past and present artists and their cats, the book explores the roles felines play in their lives, and even how they affect their artistic practices. The portfolio of intimate photos capture the unique bonds between artist and feline, often showing the cats perched on laps, desks, and even atop heads.
Among many iconic artists, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Frida Kahlo are all known to have had kitty accomplices. Having lived with many cats throughout his life, Picasso even portrayed them in his many of his paintings, including Woman with Cat (1900) and Chat et homard (Cat and Lobster, 1965). Warhol even published a book of cat drawings titled 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy and Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace (1940) features a black cat on her shoulder.
Master of surrealism, Salvador Dali, graces the book’s cover with his treasured, majestic Colombian ocelot Babou (Baby). The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a species of wild cat found predominantly in South and Central America. It is similar in appearance to a domestic cat, though its fur resembles that of a leopard or jaguar. Never one to conform, Dalí acquired Babou in the 1960s, and for a time it was seen to accompany him on a leash with a stone studded collar almost everywhere he went.
Contemporary artist Ai Weiwei lives with more than 40 cats in his Beijing studio. Offering him daily solace, he often posts pictures of them on social media. In 2006, the artist revealed more about his connection with his furry companions in one of his blog posts: “The cats and dogs in my home enjoy high status; they seem more like the lords of the manor than I do,” he writes. “The poses they strike in the courtyard often inspire more joy in me than the house itself. Their self-important positions seem to be saying, ‘This is my territory,’ and that makes me happy.”
In fact, it was Nastasi’s own love of cats that inspired her to curate the book. She reveals, “I dedicated Artists and Their Cats to my late cats who were wonderful pets. Several years ago, I was living and working in a massive artist loft in Philadelphia that was big enough to ride a bike around inside. They loved the space and always kept me company while I worked.”