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The psychedelic madness of Louis Wain’s cats
10.29.2014
07:18 pm

Topics:
Animals
Art
Unorthodox

Tags:
cats
Louis Wain
Schizophrenia

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Though I prefer dogs, I cannot help but love Louis Wain’s cats—those beautiful playful paintings of wide-eyed felines that slowly evolve (disintegrate?) into psychedelic creatures of the electric night. Wain’s strange and wonderful paintings have led to considerable speculation over their genesis—with the oft-cited suggestion these pictures show Wain’s gradual psychosis and descent into schizophrenia.

Louis Wain was born into a working class family in Victorian England in 1860. He was born with a cleft palate which meant he was kept off school for a considerable part of his childhood. When he did eventually go to school, he spent most of his time playing truant wandering the city people watching. He graduated from the West London School of Art and became a teacher. When his father died, Louis became the family’s chief breadwinner. He decided to make his living as an illustrator—winning commissions from some of the most popular of London’s magazines. He had his own style and wit. He produced satirical cartoons and illustrations of cats in various human situations: playing golf, singing opera, having a tea party, singing carols, eating cake. He explained the inspiration for his work:

I take a sketch-book to a restaurant, or other public place, and draw the people in their different positions as cats, getting as near to their human characteristics as possible. This gives me doubly nature, and these studies I think my best humorous work.

Despite his success, Wain was always in financial difficulties. This was mainly down to his own naivety—his work was exploited, used and stolen by various unscrupulous individuals he rather foolishly trusted. This wasn’t his only problem.

When he was thirty, his sister was committed to an insane asylum—it was the first rumble of the fate that was to befall Wain. He continued providing for his mother and sisters working endless painstaking hours on his illustrations. The work took its toll that saw him spend long seasons in asylums suffering from psychosis and schizophrenia.

News of his circumstances were publicized by H.G. Wells, who organized the funds to move Wain into a more suitable hospital where he could recover with his colony of cats. The Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald also personally intervened on Wain’s behalf.

There has been some speculation that Wain’s schizophrenia was caused by toxoplasma gondii—a parasite found in cat’s excreta. Whatever began his illness, Wain was incarcerated in various asylums and mental hospitals for years at a time. The changes to his life were reflected in his art. His paintings of cats took on a radiance and vitality never before seen: the fur sharp and colorful, the eyes brilliant, with a wired sense of unease of disaster about to unfold.

But these paintings look normal compared to the psychedelic fractals and spirals that followed. These beautiful images—startling, stunning, shocking—suggest a mind that has broken reality down to its atomic level.

Though it is believed that Louis Wain’s paintings followed a direct line towards schizophrenia, it is actually not known in which order Wain painted his pictures. Like his finances, Wain’s mental state was erratic throughout his life, which may explain the changes back and forth between the cute and cuddly and the abstract and psychedelic. No matter, they are beautiful, kaleidoscopic, disturbing and utterly mesmerizing.

Louis Wain died just prior to the Second World War in 1939.

Beginning in the late 60s, Wain’s work came into fashion again and has become sought after by collectors. In 2009 Nick Cave, a Wain enthusiast since the late 1970s, organized the first showing of Wain’s work outside of England when he exhibited his work as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties concert series in Australia. Artist Tracy Emin and musician David Tibet are also prominent collectors of Wain’s work.

For images from Louis Wain’s children’s books check here and for more cats check here.
 
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More of Louis Wain’s fabulous cats, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Very Best of Blancmange: The return of synth pop’s Maiden Aunts

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I suppose it was while idling to the sound of John Peel that I first heard Blancmange—the vastly under-rated synth pop duo of Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe. This must have been spring 1982 or thereabouts. No doubt I’d have been lying on my bed listening to Peel on the radio, smoking and reading Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler or the latest Spider-man rather than studying or writing essays or prepping for tutorials—you know the lark. Life was young and there were adventures to be gained.

This was part of the great attraction to Blancmange. Firstly they had a strange name which Luscombe explains as a kick back against the earnest sincerity of the great coat wearing youth who dominated music at that time and looked like they modeled their lives on the gritty black and white imagery of Anton Corbjin.

The name Blancmange was cheery - as was Arthur & Luscombe’s nickname the Maiden Aunts.

Blancmange was a comforting yet slightly bizarre name. It conjured up the image of a food that is neither jelly nor mousse but actually from the cake family and was originally made from chicken as a remedy for illness. But now best known as some kind of white or pink wobbly gooey dessert made with milk and gelatin. This strangeness fitted perfectly.

So the name appealed and the accompanying music only increased my pleasure. The first two singles—the double A-side “God’s Kitchen”/”I’ve Seen the Word” and “Feel Me,” a twelve-bar dance record, were fresh and exciting. But it was their third single “Living on the Ceiling” that informed the nation and invited Blancmange into the sitting room.

Their music was quirky, original, and fun. The best songs had lyrics that connected with a mood or a feeling that guaranteed a rerun on some subliminal soundtrack.

Luscombe and Arthur were knowingly arty without being pretentious. You knew they enjoyed films with subtitles, had read Camus but probably liked Night of the Living Dead, Derek Jarman, Edith Sitwell, The Crazies and who knows—Knut Hamsun? They also had an album cover that referenced Louis Wain. They were suburban, smart, sophisticated yet somehow quite edgy.
 
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  More from Stephen Luscombe plus promos, after he jump…  

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats
07.26.2009
10:57 am

Topics:
History

Tags:
Nick Cave
Louis Wain
HG Wells

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Often held up as THE classic example of a schizophrenic artist, in recent decades there has come to be greater respect for the talents of Victorian-era illustrator of anthropomorphic cats, Louis Wain.

Wain’s famous felines were born of his efforts to amuse his wife as she was dying of breast cancer. Wain would draw their cat, Peter, with eyeglasses, pretending to read. This style was developed over the years and eventually Wain’s cats began to walk upright and wear contemporary clothes. They engaged in activities like smoking, fishing, playing musical instruments and having tea parties. It’s important to remember that at this time, cats were not widely kept as household pets, mostly they were kept around to eradicate vermin.

Wildly popular in Victorian England, for several years Wain’s drawings and postcards were all the rage, but eventually his popularity began to… well, wane.  After being taken advantage of in several investment “opportunities,” Wain’s mental health deteriorated and he was interred at a mental hospital in the poverty ward. News of his circumstances were publicized by H.G. Wells, who organized the funds to move Wain into a nicer hospital with a colony of cats, along with Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald who personally intervened on Wain’s behalf.

In the final years of his life, Wain’s cats became more abstract and less whimsical. His once playful cats began to resemble fearsome, almost kaleidoscopic, Hindu deities. Many psychological textbooks feature drawings from various stages in the artist’s career to show the progression of Wain’s schizophrenia.

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Beginning in the late 60s, Wain’s work came into fashion again and has become sought after by collectors. In 2009 Nick Cave, a Wain enthusiast since the late 70s, organized the first showing of Wain’s work outside of England when he exhibited his work as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties concert series in Australia. Artist Tracy Emin and musician David Tibet are also prominent collectors of Wain’s work.

The Chris Beetle Gallery is a good source for buying an original Wain.

Catland: The Art of Louis Wain

Louis Wain bio

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment