Sophisticats - Page 4

How the feline form in the mid-century evoked a cool yet spiritual persona with an aura of mystery
'Shadow Play Cat,' a 1976 serigraph by Dorr Bothwell.

Consider what a puzzling object the legendary designer Alexander Girard (1907-1993) created with his 1952 wooden cat doll. Doesn't it look a bit like a case for a mummy—wooden, symmetrical, emotionally remote? Yet the cat's head can swirl, and its tail is curled.

Evelyn Ackerman (1924-2012), a designer and craftswoman based in Los Angeles, created a simple, four-color weaving blending charm and menace showing a white feline stalking a bird atop a flowering tree.

For his print of the 'Press Club Cat,' Beniamino Bufano (1890-1970), the San Francisco sculptor and bon vivant, envisioned a creature with eyes aglow all red and green, its body surrounded by an aura, as though the cat is a thing to worship—or run from.

On a lighter note we have the popular-to-this day ceramic cats from Durlin Brayton's Brayton-Laguna Pottery plant in Laguna Beach, iconic forms that reduce the animal to a series of curves that still capture the creature's essence.

Benny Bufano's 'Press Club Cat,' circa 1960.

We see a scoop between the ears, a scoop that defines so many mid-century modern cats. It is this look that has been taken up by many contemporary practitioners of neo-mid-century design.

In New York and New Jersey, photographer Walter Chandoha (1920-2019) built a career around cats, shooting for magazines, publishing books (including Walter Chandoha's Book of Kittens and Cats from 1963), and lending photos for postcards and posters. Many of his images have a stripped-down modern quality to them.

Barbara Bullington, an artist of today, with her take on cats in an MCM setting. "Cats—what are they thinking?" she wonders.

Was it hard getting the pussies to pose? "I'd bark and meow to get the animals' attention," Chandoha told the New York Times.

In Japan, during the post-World War II years, Tomoo Inagaki (1902-1980) began producing a wide range of popularly priced woodblock and other prints, many featuring his specialty, cats. Resembling Picasso more than traditional Japanese woodblocks, these are astonishing works in their variety within a limited palette of colors and activities. We see cats lurking, sitting, scratching, watching—even posing with a Christmas tree.

In Italy, Aldo Londi (1911-2003), art director for the Bitossi Ceramiche near Florence, designed or oversaw the design of thousands of functional and/or artistic pots, bowls, lamps, horse figurines—and cats.

The varied textures and innovative, sometimes iridescent glazes make the Bitossi cats unique. The forms were often simple and deliberately naive, suggesting art you might find in an ancient tomb. Some were zebra-striped. All had soulful eyes.

The Siamese cats in Donna Mibus' untitled painting look right at home with this MCM interior. In fact, they act like they own the joint.

Closer to home, painter Dorr Bothwell (1902-2000), a member of the Mendocino arts community for decades, often used cats as subject matter for paintings and prints in a range of styles, from not-quite-realistic to mythic (a cat emerging from a conch shell, in the tradition of Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus') to the folkloric.

Bothwell even mounted an all-cat show in 1977, 'All Kinds of Cats,' with serigraphs and collage at Zacha's Bay Window Gallery in Mendocino.

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