Category: purposes and ponderances

“Night Fishing with a Cat Named Antibes” – A Narrative Cat Portrait of Sorts

Painting by artist BZTAT in tribute to Picasso's painting "Night Fishing in Antibes"

One could argue that all art is serendipitous in some way. No matter how well planned out an artwork might be, there is always an element of chance that brings about a surprising outcome. Some artworks are more serendipitous than others, though.

Such is the case with my recent painting, “Night Fishing with a Cat Named Antibes”.

I created the piece for a show that I curated at the Massillon Museum in Massillon, OH. For my parting act of a two and a half year stint working at the Just Imagine Gift Gallery in Canton, OH, I coordinated the “Artist to Artist” project that resulted in a fascinating display of artwork from various artists in the community.

The “Artist to Artist” exhibit paired noted professional artists in the local community with nontraditional artists from the Just Imagine Gift Gallery in a unique collaborative arts experience. The Just Imagine Gift Gallery is an arts program offered by Twi that empowers adult artists with developmental disabilities to explore their artistic talents. Although they are not as well known as their counterparts in the exhibit, these creative individuals are true artists with amazing talents. 

I have long thought that the artwork from the Just Imagine artists could hang next to that of any other artist in town and hold its own. This show proved it.  

Over a span of a few months, professional artists met with JI artists, and they studied each other’s works, learning about each other’s techniques, styles, subject matter, and purposes. They shared ideas and inspiration. Then they returned to their separate studios and created new artworks, each inspired by their encounter with the other.

I was one of the professional artists as well as the curator for the project. “Night Fishing with a Cat Named Antibes” was my piece created out of the experience.

My paired artist, Scott, creates colorful paintings full of whimsy and narrative storytelling. He also draws heavily upon references to Picasso in his works, and he often has leaves playfully placed throughout his landscaped compositions. I wanted to incorporate all of those influences into my artwork. It was a challenge. My works tend to be snapshots in time with simple shapes and composition. Adding narrative, references to Picasso and a more complicated composition pushed me to a different level.  

I channeled Scott’s fascination for Picasso by studying two of the master’s artworks. First I looked at a painting Picasso had painted of a cat, (of course I HAD to paint a cat!), and then I looked at one of my favorite artworks by the artist, “Night Fishing at Antibes”. I looked at many of Scott’s paintings, as well. I created a fantasy-like landscape, as he often does, and I added many leaves, fluttering about in the painting, in the same way that Scott often paints in his paintings. 

The cat is a bit different than my usual fare, as I added the Picasso-esque style. I made the cat with tortoiseshell markings, because torties have natural Picasso-esque faces. I also added textural elements to make the piece come alive. The title is a play on words with Picasso’s painting title.

Now for the serendipitous part. On the day before my last day working at Just Imagine, a strange sequence of events occurred that, completely by chance, brought the painting around full circle.

Early in the day, I had stepped outside to greet a coworker who had stopped to pick up my mail. As we talked at the curb, a man came from across the street and said, “Excuse me, but a cat just crawled up inside your van’s engine block.” We went to the van and opened up the hood, and I crawled underneath to see if I could see a cat. I could not. As we walked back to the building, however, a woman on the sidewalk said, “That cat just ran inside.” I had left the door open, and apparently the cat saw an opportunity.

My coworker and I went inside, and we looked and looked, but we could not find a cat. I began to believe that this whole cat tale was a myth.  But when I came in to open up the next morning, which was my last day there, I heard, “Mew! Mew! Mew!”

A cat named Antibes
Antibes in the Just Imagine back room

All day, we heard the mewing, but we couldn’t see the cat. Finally, I moved some things around in the area where the mewing was coming from, and a brownish ball of fur shot out like a rocket! The cat scrambled around the studio floor, and it found its way to the back room. I got a look at it, and SHE was a beautiful little tortie girl that LOOKED EXACTLY LIKE THE CAT I HAD PAINTED THE PREVIOUS WEEK for the “Artist to Artist” exhibit!

Ending my work at Just Imagine was very hard for me. Working with that amazing group of artists was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. The last thing I thought I would be doing on my last day there was chasing a cat around the studio. But serendipity happens when you least expect it.

I have many wonderful memories from working at Just Imagine. And now, purely by chance, I also have a Cat Named Antibes, whose portrait I painted before I even met her. It certainly was a surprising outcome that has taken me on a whole new adventure.

A Cat Named Antibes - BZTAT
A Cat Named Antibes

Life is an Adventure!




Urban Wildlife Painting Exhibit now on display at Malone University

Urban Wildlife painting exhibit at Malone University by artist BZTAT

For several months now, I have been working on a series of paintings for an exhibit at Malone University in Canton, OH. The paintings are of animals who share the Canton, OH community with an urban and suburban population of human beings. I call the series “Urban Wildlife”, as their habitat has increasingly become a concrete jungle of urban sprawl.

I wrote about three of these paintings and the animals that inspired them in previous posts (deer, skunk, goose). I will likely write about more of the animals, in fact, I am hoping to make a book about the paintings with reflections on their inspirations. All in due time.

For now, though, I thought I would share the Artist Statement that accompanies the Malone Exhibit here. It is below. The exhibit will be in the Fountain Gallery until December 7, 2019 in the Johnson Center at 2600 Cleveland Ave NW. I hope you get a chance to see it!

Urban Wildlife of Stark County
Painting Series by Artist BZTAT

There is something beautiful about driving around late at night when there is no one else awake but the night creatures that inhabit the city. The approach of my car startles them. They take notice of me, and they ponder whether they should flee or stand their ground. They regard me as my headlights capture their visage. I regard them too, with a mix of fascination and wonder. It is just them and me, and I see them – really SEE them – words fail to describe the encounter.

For about a year and half, this was my nightly adventure. To earn extra money to supplement my art business, I took on a paper route for a time that required that I make my deliveries in the early morning hours. Every night, I crept around three local neighborhoods, delivering the Canton Respository to subscribers, and observing the nightly goings on of the urban wildlife that make Canton, OH and Stark County their home.

Ordinary creatures, perhaps. These are not exotic creatures from Africa or the outback. All too often they are what we call “road kill” as we pass their lifeless carcasses on the highway. We share our community with them, and yet, we often dismiss them as pests or annoyances. The sad irony is that we have encroached on their habitat. It is they who have suffered the consequences of our urban sprawl.

Great beauty can be found in the ordinary, and great beauty can be found in the brief interaction between woman and beast. Since words fail to describe that beauty, I have endeavored to recreate my urban wildlife encounters with images. In each painting in this series of 12 acrylic paintings on wood, I have tried to share a moment of regard between myself and a wild animal in my community.

Not all of the creatures rendered in this series are night dwellers. As I immersed myself in this painting project, I decided to paint animals that I have encountered during the daylight hours as well. Although the initial inspiration came from my nightly travels, I extended my creative exploration to day creatures, too. All of the animals rendered are native to Stark County, OH. They are named as “Night Stalkers” and “Day Stalkers” and numbered according to the order in which I painted them.

Each painting represents an encounter, a moment of regard, or an observation of an extraordinarily ordinary creature that shares a habitat with me.

Life is an Adventure!


Wait for it. There’s a cat in this goose story.

Canada Goose urban wildlife painting contemporary pop art BZTATAs I have written in recent posts about my Urban Wildlife Painting Series (deer and skunk), I have felt a special connection to my animal subjects because of my observations of them while delivering newspapers in the early hours of the morning. I have a special connection to Canada Geese as well, but for a different reason.

In the summer of 1995, a pipeline rupture filled the Tuscarawas River with oil near my home at the time in Bolivar, OH. The natural habitat for the creatures along the river was destroyed, and many animals were harmed. I heard a call for volunteers to help rescue the animals on the local news, so I jumped into action.

There were a few ducks and some domestic and hybrid geese brought in with oil on them, but most of the rescued animals were Canada Geese. There was a beaver and a muskrat and a few snakes and turtles, as well. Sadly, none of the herons brought in survived. Their systems were too fragile to overcome the physical and emotional stress caused by the oil.

My job as a volunteer was not a particularly glamorous one. I mostly prepared and cleaned the pens where the geese were kept. I learned quickly the meaning of “hissy fit” and “wild goose chase” (I often was the one being chased). Trust me when I tell you that cleaning newspapers fouled by goose poop is no fun chore. I was glad to do it though. I felt so sad for these birds who were harmed by mankind’s excess and recklessness.

I also had an opportunity to administer Pedialyte to a few birds (helps to restore their electrolytes) and I helped wash a couple of birds. Yes, they really do use Dawn Dishwashing Liquid for this process. Administering Pedialyte requires forcing a tube into the beak and down the throat of the bird.

So you could say that I have been about as up close and personal as you can get to a Canada Goose.

The process of cleaning and rehabbing the birds took about a week from the date of capture by rangers to the date of release. It was very hard on them. The stress of being oiled, the physical damage to their systems and the stress of captivity was rigorous for these natural creatures. Despite our best efforts, some perished during the rescue process, especially the youngest goslings. But many survived, and their resilience was astounding.

My experience with these geese during their most vulnerable moments left a deep impression on me.  They are proud birds, prancing about with their heads held high in a fanciful manner regardless of their circumstances. They have wills as strong as iron. They are comical in a way, yet tenacious and strong. They hiss and snarl at you, yet they are not violent, and they cause you no harm.

They are amazing creatures.

The goose population in urban areas is growing, and many people see them as pests. They sometimes hold up traffic as they march single file across roadways, and goose droppings can create a mess on sidewalks, parking lots and walking paths. But honestly, we are causing them more disruption than they are to us. And they put up with us.

On my last day as a wildlife rescue volunteer, I was allowed to view the release of a large group of Canada Geese back to the wild (Hybrids and domestic geese were released to farms with ponds as they cannot be released back to the wild.) One by one, the rangers lined up the special carriers, each containing a goose, along the newly cleaned riverbed. They opened the carriers all at once, and the birds started marching out. A few seconds passed as they marched forward, then, all at the same time, they took flight and sailed above the water with grace and command.

And we all bawled our eyes out, watching them regain their freedom after they had endured such an ordeal.

I do not believe that I have ever in my life experienced a moment like that before, and I doubt I ever will again.

As the title indicates, there was a cat in this story too. 

One day when I arrived for my volunteer shift to look after the geese, I saw a pet carrier near the wildlife area of the building that housed the rescue efforts. Inside the carrier was a small tortoise shell cat with gold eyes staring out, purring and looking for attention. Of course, I could not resist giving her the attention she desired.

The rangers said that it had taken them 2 days to catch her as she romped along the oily riverbed. They did not want to leave her, because she appeared to have oil on her, but as it turned out, it was not oil, just the dark markings of her tortoise shell coat.

Long story short, Slick came home with me and she was my loving pet for many years to follow (You can read more about Slick here and here).

As I have done with my other posts about the Urban Wildlife Painting Series, I have chosen a musical selection to augment the story behind the painting. I often think of that moment when the geese took flight when I hear Michael Hedges’ “Aerial Boundaries”. It reminds me that obstacles and limitations can be overcome, when you consider that the sky has no boundaries.

View the entire Urban Wildlife Series in an exhibit at the Johnson Center at Malone University from October 28 – December 7, 2019.

Life is an Adventure!