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!”
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.
Life is an Adventure!