Late in 2022 crowds of cat-eared animal enthusiasts descended upon Pasadena’s Convention Center, prepared for the immersive two-day experience that is CatCon. Part symposium, part expo, the annual event educates and inspires thousands of fans with groundbreaking, cat-centric ideas and projects. Did we mention there’s plenty of artwork, too?
Tucked among the booths of rescue kittens, educational pamphlets, and cat-shaped backpacks, a small pop-up installation with a grand idea opened its doors to the public. Featuring seven original works, Untamed: The Unbearable Weight of Genius Cat Art was inspired by the enduring friendship between Nicolas Cage and Merlin, the actor’s Maine Coon cat. One of these works—appropriately titled “Merlin”—traveled from the studio of New York-based painter Michael Caines, who often incorporates pampered cats into his paintings of European royalty. “The animals portrayed in [my] paintings are intended to serve as surrogates for the avarice and hubris of those who hold power,” Michael says. By both cropping and lowering the focal point of his work, Michal moves the viewer’s perspective from human to small animal—be it cat, dog, or cock.
Acting as “avatars of our desires,” the animals in Michael’s work are as plump, spoiled, and well-groomed as their aristocratic owners. His paintings are realistic recreations of famous portraits of royals like George I and Louis XIV, works that feel instantly familiar to anyone with a standard Western education. “My current paintings satirically critique the subjects of power and privilege,” he says, now viewing much of art history as the byproduct of European wealth and colonization. “[These are] works I both admire and recognize as symbolic iterations of class privilege and colonial oppression.”
Still, Michael finds much to celebrate in the fur-lined robes and gilded rooms that fill his paintings. There is pure aesthetic pleasure to be found in ruffled bedding, luxurious silk brocade, the light as it bounces from one gold surface to the next. Reconsidering the past by way of the present, Michael strives to “smuggle a sharp point beneath layers of silk and fur.” Me-ow.
Acting as “avatars of our desires,” the animals in Michael’s paintings are as plump, spoiled, and well-groomed as their aristocratic owners.
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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