The 1990s brought us the World Wide Web, revolutionizing the parameters of human communication and discovery. The 21st century has ushered us into a new phase of electronic evolution. We are in the cultural moment of the meme—specifically, the cat meme.
Since the early 2000s, cats have been the subject of digitally constructed images that are widely shared over the Internet. These memes, popularized by the website LOLcats in 2006, generally include humorous commentary on the cat's depicted stance or expression. The cat meme's development has spawned such serial gems as Hipster Kitty, Lenin Cat, and Cat Breading, which features pictures of cats with slices of bread around their necks. Last summer, there was even a film festival devoted to Internet cat videos held at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The phenomenon is difficult to wrap your head around—at once absurd and oddly compelling. To reference a famous cat lover (T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats often gets lost in the shadow of The Waste Land), we are led—like the lonesome Prufrock—to an overwhelming question: Just what is it about cats? Retired elementary art teacher Becky Todd's response comes in the form of her Cosmic Cat series.
"I can understand why cats are in temples," says Todd. "There is a sort of metaphysical association with cats and felineness." The 12 digital constructions in Todd's series depict photographs of cats—which she took at the Peace Plantation Animal Sanctuary in Walton—set against themed cosmic backgrounds. A white kitten poised on a shelf in the sanctuary inspired her image Zen Cat. "She was sitting there so fabulously," Todd says. "There were 500 cats in this place, and she was so Zen." The Cosmic Cat series evolved from one of Todd's earlier projects, where she created vignettes based on characters from books. "I would look, for example, at little shell creatures with googly eyes, and would create an environment for them that seemed like the right place for them to live," Todd says. "When I saw the [Zen] cat, she informed me of where she was ideally. She wasn't physically in a Zen environment, but I imagined that she was in her mind."
The image on this month's cover was designed with Chronogram in mind, inspired by Randal Roberts's Portrait of Homer Simpson from our August 2009 cover. "It was always my favorite cover," says Todd. "I loved the use of spiritual ideas combined with this commercial icon." Todd, who works in a variety of artistic styles, says her Cosmic Cat series is her favorite, partly because of this marrying of the transcendent and the commonplace, and partly because it calls back to her time as a teacher making art with children. "These images have that same intention of playfulness and wonder," Todd says. "It's from the most playful and fun part of myself."
Todd is a member of the Catskill Mountain Artisans Guild, which just opened a second gallery space in Delhi (in addition to the cooperative gallery in Margaretville). Todd plans to display and sell original work at the Delhi gallery, including pieces from her Cosmic Cat series. Catsguild.org.