Thursday, December 22, 2011
This picture, the last on our 2011 calendar, has always been one of my favorites. Cat is alone but content skating figure eights under a clear nighttime sky with the promise of light and warmth in the near distance. You can call me sentimental but that was in truth a rarity for Kliban during his life.
The Cat illustrations were for him doodles he made when he was attempting to realize one of the more bizarre and ironic images that appeared most often in Playboy magazine. (Don't worry, we didn't read it, just looked at the pictures.) He routinely savaged sacred cows, apparently staying up nights on end to see just how far he could force an idea that would still be interpretable to the rest of us. The results, as he incited philosophers to loot small towns and pretty women to fix their makeup in the mirror of a blind man's dark glasses were always fascinating, darkly funny and never comforting.
It seems to me that such a gifted artist, one who struggled with the perceptions coming from the dark side of his psyche, was very involved in uncovering essential truths about our plight as human beings. Another favorite of his cartoons shows a fakir settling down on a bed of nails while saying, 'It only hurts when I exist.' When Kliban died in 1990, a great many people never realized the world had lost a twisted and irreplaceable visionary.
Perhaps you're already familiar with his 'other than Cat' cartoons and you may even own a copy of 'Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head' or 'The Biggest Tongue In Tunisia'. They are wonderfully irreverent and well worth your attention if you haven't seen them for a while. Yet I still get the feeling that even though he dismissed the Cat drawings, refusing to be interviewed about them even after they became wildly popular, that in them he'd found a universal truth. There's a poignant and transcendent quality to them that speaks of finding light even in the deepest dark.
I was relieved to get our 2012 Kliban cat calendar in the mail a few days ago. Yes, there are many other calendars out there - probably too many - but if you need to have a selection of rambling, playful, hedonistic, and somewhat sadistic cat images on your kitchen wall to make the place seem like home then nothing else will do.