Recognize this image?
No, it is not the little drawing in my banner, but it is remarkably similar!
It is a drawing of acrobatic cats, by an artist who single-mindedly made his whole career out of drawing cats: the amazing Louis Wain!
I first heard about this artist from another wonderful artist, the animator Sally Cruikshank, back in 1981. I had come to Los Angeles to meet with her, as one of the many hats I was wearing back then was as a distributor of short films to cable television, and her short "Quasi at the Quackadero" was one of my most popular titles.
Sally was married to a great guy, producer Jon Davison, who was famous at the time as the producer of "Airplane", the Zucker Brothers' hit comedy. He was one of the first "real" producers I met in Hollywood, and he was very gracious and generous with us "just off the boat" kids from Chicago. The thing that impressed me about both Sally and Jon was just how "real" they were; coming from the Midwest, Hollywood could often seem like the phoniest of places, so it was reassuring to meet people who weren't just reciting box office grosses, but were talking with passion about an obsurce, instiutionalized 19th century children's book artist!
Wain was born in 1860 in London and went to the West London School of Art as a young man. He married a woman ten years his elder, but tragically she died of cancer only 3 years later. He did most of his major work as an illustrator in the years before World War I, publishing books and postcards and games, all of his uniquely human cats which became his obsession.
He had a run of employment and fame and modest fortune from his cat art (starting in 1901 there was even a Louis Wain Annual!).
But by 1916 he was almost flat broke and in increasingly desperate circumstances. Never one to play to current vogue, his drawings were out of fashion and were slowly getting weirder.
By 1924 he was committed to the Middlesex County Asylum for the Insane. He continued to draw, and in some ways did some of his most astonishing work there.
It was a cat named Peter, whom he nicknamed Peter The Great, that was given to he and his wife as a gift by his sisters, that he spent hours studying and sketching during the long hours and years of his wife's illness. In retrospect, this tragedy was the formative event of his life, being both the wellspring of his genius, and the fount of his obsession and madness.
Louis Wain died on the 4th of July in 1939. His work is only known today among a certain circle of afficianados; both cat people, outsider art fans, and anyone like myself lucky enough to have known Sally Cruikshank back in the early 80's in Los Angeles!
It's great when people share their personal passions and obsessions. We learn so much about the vast world we live in.