Meet the Artist Making Drawings of Famous Writers & Their Cats
By Hilton Dresden
'Of Cats and Men:' In Conversation with Illustrator Sam Kalda
Sam Kalda's new art book, Of Cats and Men, is out now, and features gorgeous portraits of men throughout history—Haruki Murakami, T.S. Eliot, William S. Burroughs, and Ai Weiwei, to name a few—in repose with their feline companions. The book is an unusual, brilliant and educational profile of 30 iconic thinkers that have shaped modern culture in indefinable ways, while also making sure to showcase cute pictures of kitties.
Take a look at a few of our favorite painting in the following slides, and read our exclusive sit-down with Kalda, where we cover cats, gender and PeeWee's Playhouse, below.
OUT: What inspired you to write a book about cats and the famous men who've loved them?
Sam Kalda: I was inspired by some photos of Marlon Brando and Jean Cocteau with their cats. This led to the idea of creating a historical list of "Cat Men," which seemed like a fun project with a quirky cast of characters. I've always loved cats. Am I intense about it? I don't know. Certainly enthusiastic.
How did you go about selecting who to feature?
As this project has been evolving for about 4 years, I was able to slowly collect an assortment of characters through research and reading. I discovered Balthus' cats from a show at the Met; Murakami's cats from an intense Murakami phase. A number of the figures in the book were recommended to me by friends and fans of the project, which was amazing. I tried to find figures with interesting stories and anecdotes related to their love of cats. I've always thought the "crazy cat lady" stereotype is cruel and never understood why cats have historically been gendered. As I say in the introduction, it's about standing in solidarity with our cat-loving sisters as "crazy cat men."
What was the process of creating these drawings?
After researching photos of the subjects and their homes/studios, I worked on pencil sketches. From there, I started to paint digitally, then collaged scanned drawings and handmade textures.
Which other illustrators do you look to for inspiration?
Maira Kalman and Edward Bawden come to mind. I'm also inspired by midcentury design, PeeWee's Playhouse, Weiner Werkstätte postcards, vintage picture books and Bloomsbury/Omega workshop interiors.
Do you have cats of your own?
I have one cat, Sister. She looks like a cross between a nun and Morticia Addams. She's a sweet, regal beast.