Salvador Dalí, World Telegram & Sun photo by Roger Higgins; image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Photograph by John Candelario. Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 165660
For editor Alison Nastasi, the ties that bind artists and animals stretch far into ancient times, when the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans erected artworks in honor of their feline friends. For her new book, Artists and Their Cats, she uncovers some of the quiet, nocturnal moments shared in studio by some of history’s greatest artists and their constant kitty companions.
Nastasi, who is an artist herself with two cats, believes that in many ways, artists and felines are spiritual kin. Like the quintessential craftsperson, the cat maintains an air of secrecy and subtlety, often misunderstood for preferring a life of an outsider or loner. In a darkened studio, she suggests that cats make the ideal helpmate, keeping to themselves while filling the room with hushed breaths that appease any sense of loneliness.
Nastasi’s process began a few years ago with a piece she completed for Flavorwire, where she works as a weekend editor. When Chronicle Books reached out to her about making a book of the images she’d found, she jumped on the opportunity, plunging herself into in-depth research through libraries, museum archives, and personal collections. In some cases, she contacted photographers who had created the portraits, and when they were living, she reached out to the artists themselves.
Discovering the photographs, says the editor, was like “looking at old family photos,” peering behind the curtain into the intimate, private lives of artists she had written on in school. The images that touched her the most were those that captured the pure and simple harmony felt between a cat and his human. Agnès Varda, she notes, was so influenced by her cat Zgougou that she build a memorial upon her passing. German artist and model Veruschka, she discovered, had committed herself to rescuing felines in need, and Andy Warhol lived with twenty-five cats for a time. Edward Gorey’s pet cats, she says, were as bizarre and enchanting as the ones that flew from his pen, and one learned to purr only in her twilight years. Between artist and cat, Nastasi concludes, there sits a core of “mutual respect,” an understanding that eludes but no less enchants the remainder of the population.
Henri Matisse, © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos.
Edward Gorey, Photo by Eleanor Garvey; used by permission.
Agnes Varda, Photograph by Didier Doussin; used by permission.
Arthur Rackham, Image courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.
Claude Cahun, Photo courtesy of the Jersey Heritage Museum.
Florence Henri, Courtesy Archive Florence Henri/Martini & Ronchetti, Genoa.
Philip Burne Jones, Photo by Bain News Service, no date listed; image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Wanda Gag, Photographer unknown; photo used by permission of the Minnesota Historical Society.
John Cage, Courtesy of the John Cage Trust.
Artists and Their Cats Cover, Salvador Dalí, World Telegram & Sun photo by Roger Higgins; image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
All images from Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi, published by Chronicle Books, 2015