Earlier this year, my cat died. Ned [a.k.a Sir Nedrick von Kittenpuss, Nedgy Doodle-Dandy] wasn’t always my cat. My fiancé knew him years before I did. However, despite a rough start that included him peeing on my backpacks and rug, I grew to love him as my own. He could be a real sweetheart once you got to know him.
Ned was an inquisitive cat, whose immense size matched his intelligence and sense of humor. He had excellent comedic timing, and he loved to watch how people did things, like open a can or assemble Ikea furniture. He used to sit in a chair like a person and eat breakfast with us.
He was only seven-years-old when he died. One day, he had a seizure while napping next to me on the couch. After many trips back and forth to vets, it was discovered he had been living with a bad heart his whole life. Half of his heart was consumed by fibrous tissues by the time he started showing serious symptoms, and the other half was severely enlarged.
At that point, we realized he had been living with this condition his entire life, and it had changed how he acted and developed as a cat. It forced him to just watch other cats playing because he got winded easily, and forced him to be more observant as a way to entertain himself. He would have been a completely different cat from the one we knew and loved if he hadn’t lived with that disease.
Louis Wain had a disease too, one that we still don’t know all that much about. The noted English artist suffered from late-onset schizophrenia, and spent the last 15 years of his life in an asylum. Previous to that, he managed to build a small empire on painting and drawing cats, often in human situations. Even H.G. Wells respected his dedication and distinct perspective, saying “English cats that do not look like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.”
Many look to the works produced after his committal as a clear sign of his disease, placing them in an order from most realistic depictions to the most fractal and calling it evidence. In reality, the creation dates for the majority of his works are vague, so a linear reading of his stylistic development is conjecture at best.
See, he was infatuated with intricate wallpaper patterns at the time as well, so the fractals did not come out of nowhere, and as an artist, it is normal to experiment with form. If you look at his body of work purely as an artist, you will see he was unique and skilled. If you look at his work for signs of his affliction, however, that’s what you’ll find, and you’ll likely miss out on the part where he was a successful artist long before he was labeled with a disorder. In a different time with different circumstances, he may have been another R. Crumb or Joe Coleman, designing album covers or hanging out with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Life can suck sometimes, but it’s how we deal with setbacks that defines our character. Since my cat died, I decided to put this mix together to honor his memory. As a tribute to Ned, it should be taken with a mix of thought and humor. The memory of Louis Wain also deserves to be honored, in magazines and art shows, and not through poorly researched mental health blogs [as of early 2008, his London gravesite was left derelict by city council]. How our lives are lived, what people remember about us when we’re gone, is more important than how our lives come to an end… unless that’s a really funny story.
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