I’ve been working on a design project using my artwork, so I’m digging back through recent digital photos and farther back into the years of film prior to that to find my shots of the artwork as I work on my layout.
Digging through photos is not unusual as I use my own photos for my design assignments all the time. But this is different—these are commissioned portraits of cats through the years and the memories the portraits bring back, mingled with the memories of all the cats I’ve known through the years, is like a review of my cats, of my art, of my past 20 years and where it’s all led me.
And as I look through them an old song simply begins to play in my memory as well.
Photographs and memories…
Just last year, there is Peaches, and though I knew she was ill and our time was limited, we still had wonderful days, she a part of each moment I was home. Her petite frame, her creamy white fur with the big peach and gray patches, her quiet self-centeredness and her devoted expressions greet me from photos of her from nearly every day until October when she passed.
And there with her is Dickie, that big silly tabby cat I fostered for a year who managed to fit right in with everyone in the household, trying to look like one of the girls on the cabinet in the kitchen so he could get some of their food, sleeping in one of his truly bizarre positions, bathing Kelly in the library.
The year before that I find Namir and Cookie and I out in the yard for that last splendid June mingled with photos of the flowers as they bloomed, the two of them trailing me around as if I needed supervision, the yard lush and green.
Then I find the year of Mimi and the Big Four as they grew from black fluffballs to rangy juveniles, back when they were hardly more than just another momcat and litter of kittens who needed homes, before they all stole my heart.
All that I have are these
To remember you…
Before them I find Lucy, their half-sister who I lost so young, lithe and active, a part of every scene, already a subject.
Back to the time when Peaches and Cream were strangers who had just arrived, and when Peaches officially joined the household.
There is Moses, quiet and gray, reclining in the sun on the bricks just outside the basement door, Stanley accompanying me in my garden, all the greenery noticeably smaller than a few years later in Namir and Cookie’s photos.
Sophie peeks at me through the lace curtains, blue forget-me-nots filling the windowbox just outside the window; I am so glad I turned around to see her and quickly snapped that shot as I was leaving the house one evening.
I wonder why I photographed my Recamier, a piece of furniture I no longer have in my house, and there I see Nikka, the dilute tortie, nearly lost in the floral pattern.
I am again filled with wonder at the beauty of Sally’s glowing, silky white fur as she simply sits in the sun, and laugh when I see her sleeping in the shade under the Brussels sprout plants.
Memories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day…
Then, as I move farther and farther back through the boxes of prints sorted into envelopes I watch my household grow younger, I see them walking on different floors and draped on different furniture, cats who’ve been gone five, ten, fifteen years reappear. Allegro sits on the windowsill soaking in the winter sun.
Kublai frolics in the deep snow the winter it was two feet deep from nearly November to April. There is Fawn comforting Kublai in the last year of his life as a puzzling, undiagnosed illness caused him to waste away to nothing. Cookie amply fills up a pedestal sink in the bathroom I removed years ago.
There are the leagues of foster cats, individuals, momcats and litters of kittens, who I scooped up from a back road, trapped in a barn or accepted from someone who simply didn’t want to or couldn’t keep anymore who lived with me for days to weeks to months, but who went on to other loving homes, their “portrait shots” showing them from all angles and closeups of their faces intended for a dozen or so reprints to hand out to friends to help find them homes in the old-fashioned way before electronic communications made it so easy.
But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when…
And through this I am reminded of the first meetings with each of the cats who came to spend their lives with me, however brief or long that life was.
At one time each of them was a refugee and stranger, and that it was only by the chance of not being adopted that they came to stay with me.
How was I fortunate enough that these cats who I grew to love so desperately came to stay with me?
Because among all these photos is me with my dreams, behind the scenes, behind the camera, learning to see, to plan, to think in different media, following their lead as they showed me their inner beauty, taught me about sunlight on their fur, looked intently at me to be sure I’d learned the lesson.
I didn’t know where I’d end up, but I knew that in these photographs of the lessons they gave me were what would lead me to…today.
I see the photos that became paintings, sketches, block prints—Fawn peeking out from under the bed, Stanley on the table, Moses on the pink sweater, Kublai and Sally curled together like yin and yang, each of the works a combination of studying their movements and their personalities, and finding that one special moment that I found exceptional with each of them, instilling my love for them as I worked.
Through their patient, constant guidance I was directed from simply seeing, to visualizing, to realizing not only what I saw but what I felt, I photographed, remembered the moment within and without me, and put that on paper as best I could.
Others saw my paintings of my cats, saw perhaps my talent and skill but also how I felt about each of them, and asked if I could celebrate their beloved animal companions in the same way. I had thought that no one could love their cats as much as I loved mine, but in discussing their portrait with each of the people who commissioned me I learned that each of us loves our animal companions just as deeply, and that having people not only give me photos but also stories of love and devotion are essential to a good portrait.
Sharing all of this led a richness to my life I would never have known in any other chosen profession, and even my decision to work at home as a commercial artist was influenced by the desire to create more time and space for this artwork.
Photographs and memories
All the love you gave to me
Somehow it just can’t be true
That’s all I’ve left of you.
But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when…
I look around my home and there they are, in the flesh, on the walls, in boxes of photos and books of sketches, every moment of life with them an inspiration to do more, to try a new style or medium, to simply awaken my senses to shape and color and the essence of an image. If I ever leave a legacy it will be because of them. I thank them every day for giving me this life.
Thanks to Jim Croce for such a sweet song: “Photographs and Memories” © 1973 EMI Records