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Visible Soul: Celebrating the Feline as Muse at Lesley University

Louise Bourgeois, FEMALE (from MALE AND FEMALE, 2005) Drypoint, engraving and aquatint with chine collé on paper Diptych

By Puloma Ghosh

Cambridge, MA – The “Visible Soul: Celebrating the Feline as Muse through Painting, Drawing, Photography and Sculpture” exhibit in the VanDernoot Gallery is tucked away behind a café in Lesley’s University Hall, much like a cat that appears in a bright flash of color between the furniture. This exhibit is a collection of pieces focused on man’s other, more mysterious best friend —cats. The pieces are comprised of a variety of media, from prints and paintings to photography and sculpture. Each piece captures a different aspect of the cat, and when arranged together, create a detailed picture of what makes it such a captivating and inspiring companion.

The artists featured in the show are nothing short of impressive. “Male and Female,” two dry point prints by Louise Bourgeois, hang complementing each other, and three hand-colored lithographs by Andy Warhol neatly accompany each other. They depict a cat named Sam in orange, gold and pink, each rendition with different colored eyes. The pieces reflect Warhol’s style, both simple and eye-catching.

Another eye-catching feature of the exhibit is J. Morrison’s series of screen prints called “HomoCats,” which shows the ease with which cats have been incorporated into pop culture in recent years. In the tradition of popular Internet memes, Morrison paired a bold image of a cat with a catchphrase or tagline. A few are black and white with very clearly defined shapes, while others are blazing with bright colors. Every piece draws the viewer’s attention from its corner of the gallery. While slightly raunchy and shocking, Morrison uses the bright images of cats to convey a message of tolerance in the humorous form our culture has grown accustomed to.

The brightness and whimsy of the cats, as well as their playfully shifting forms are captured by many of the artists, such as Juan Jose Barboza-Gubo’s large blue “Zebebeebzie and the Phantom Tail I and II,” and Arne Svenson’s series of “Strays.” Yui Kugimiya’s animations of cats in human situations stands out as amusing, while causing us to identify with these creatures.

There’s something unsettling about the crisp and detailed audio of human interaction, such as answering the phone (“Cat Moshimoshi”) or ordering donuts (“Cronica De Una Muerte Anunciada”), paired with stylized, anthropomorphic cats of Kugimiya’s animations. It gives them real personality and life, even with Kugimiya’s artistic “live painting” style of animation. Each motion the cat makes leaves a ghost of brushstrokes in the frame, capturing their fluid movements.

Over all, the gallery displays an impressive and diverse collection of work featuring cats. The title, “Visible Soul” was based on French novelist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s quote, “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” The inspiration these artists draw from the various parts of the soul that a cat can reflect in its nature is strongly felt throughout. It successfully brings together the playful, the peaceful, and the chaotic parts of a cat’s personality with a very enjoyable collection.

(Visible Soul: Celebrating the Feline as Muse through Painting, Drawing, Photography and Sculpture continues through June 14 at VanDernoot Gallery at
University Hall, Lesley University College of Art and Design, 1815 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Mass. For more information, call (617) 585-6656.)