Catbeast

cast bronze cat skull sculpture

I washed this just before the shot. That’s water drooling off a fang.

In ’95 I was making cast bronze cat skull sculptures like the one above (“Catbeast”). It’s about a foot long and five inches high, welded together from six or seven smaller pieces, all of them cast from wax positives hand-formed to look like bones. The skull was different, though. I’d made a flexible rubber mold from a real cat skull to make wax cat skulls that I could cast in bronze. At this actual moment there are at least half a dozen solid bronze cat skulls in this house, in fact. When you make them out of bronze, they tend to stick around.

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John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. with his classical pianist wife. “Possibly the only place I can get away with this,” he says. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore (Bush’s Brain) put it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • Ken Webb March 26, 2013, 8:41 AM

    Looking at this piece, and remembering other pieces of your art, makes me want to generalize a bit as to your subject matter and esthetic. I also see linkages with the art of your sister. I have my own hunches about what is going on, whether consciously or otherwise, but I’m much more interested in hearing your own description of what you were up to as an artist. Not what the art “means”, I hasten to say, but what it is suggesting or what its sources were in your own imagination or what effect you intended it to have – perhaps, most basically, what made you want to do it?

    I speak as someone without visual imagination, for whom looking at art generally provokes questions such as, “Is that all?” or “Why bother?” I suppose Rembrandt and Goya had a reason for bothering, but even the great masters never seem to be saying very much, or else what they are saying isn’t very interesting or is better told as a story in prose or verse. Expressions of emotion, character, passion – not to mention ideas – require some level of complexity and development through time. Of course, time is not art’s dimension. There is only the one image, frozen forever. Some might say that that is the glory of art, but to me it seems like its fatal limitation.

    Perhaps modernist and post-modernist art – your own included – is getting at this malaise. It seems to function more as a send-up than a statement. But there must be more to it that that. So what am I missing?

    • JHF March 26, 2013, 9:23 AM

      …what made you want to do it?

      So I could SEE it! Purely pleasure-driven, all the way. Same reason I posted the photo, so I could look at it and feel undifferentiated joy.

      I speak as someone without visual imagination, for whom looking at art generally provokes questions such as, “Is that all?” or “Why bother?”

      Looking at art which resonates with me—who can say why?—fills me with excitement. Just taking it in is a visceral thrill. Maybe you’re just blocked somehow. Of course, this also excuses you from ever having to buy me a shirt, so there’s that!

      • Ken Webb March 26, 2013, 11:03 AM

        I’ve never had much use for psychologizing, so I don’t much care whether I’m blocked. Pleasure comes in lots of forms. As a character in a novel once said, “If I’m crazy that’s okay with me.” (No work of visual art is capable of that kind of wit, though Magritte and Duchamps come close.)

        “Excitement” and “visceral thrill” are undoubtedly true for you, but they’re pretty abstract as descriptors of the experience of art. I want to ask, “Why”? or “Tell me more.”

        I gave specific reasons for my own problems with visual art – the lack of the temporal dimension, the lack of art’s ability to portray complex states of feeling or thought. Do you disagree that these are limitations? If you don’t, can you describe what it is about frozen images that compensates for these limitations, or even makes the limitations into strengths? You yourself turned to prose and gave up on art (other than photography). You must have had some dissatisfaction with it. And do you not have any speculations at all as to why you chose certain styles and subject matters in your art when you were doing it?

        Okay, okay, I know I have a mania for asking questions, and I know I’m blocked, and I know my limitations are unlimited, but it’s all okay with me.

        • JHF March 26, 2013, 2:09 PM

          Do you have to know why your steak tastes good? But obviously, sure, different kinds of creative output rely on various perceptive abilities. Visual art that resonates with something deep inside depends heavily on individual, group, and societal psychology and emotions. That’s all non-verbal stuff. If you want to discuss ideas, you might want to write them down. But not necessarily!

          Haven’t given up on any kind of art, BTW. Call it “focusing.” When we have our own place again, I’ll have a workshop or studio. I would love to make some more welded steel sculptures that move in the wind. When I cleaned out my mother’s studio in Arizona last spring, I grabbed all her paints and brushes plus a nifty easel to add to my own. I painted for a while, too—my art work is hanging on the walls a few feet away. And remember, I also own three guitars, a bouzouki, a MIDI keyboard, and a Fender Twin Reverb amp. It’s just hard to do all this stuff at once and be any damned good.

          Maybe I should write about that. 🙂

          • Ken Webb March 26, 2013, 3:08 PM

            While one could attempt to describe the elements and reasons behind a good-tasting steak, that would not make for a very interesting piece of writing. Frankly, it’s a subject that visual art could handle better, just because it’s simpler and is timeless, so to speak. There’s nothing in it of mind, character, emotion, history, story-telling or just about anything else that interests me. The steak just sits there on the plate and looks succulent. How boring! Give me the real blood-oozing thing, between my teeth, dripping from my mouth, penetrating my nostrils and disappearing down my gullet! That, my friend, is true excitement and true visceral thrill.

            But if we add to the picture a guy in pajamas eating a slightly underdone porterhouse, a woman in an elegant dress watching him and a child with a runny nose begging for a piece off the plate – well, there we’ve got something of interest, a story begging to be told but that can’t be told in a picture.

            Here’s another thought: Why is it that art, unlike writing, unlike music, exists primarily as the subject of collectors? Why is some 14th century Madonna and Child worth millions, whereas Dante’s Divine Comedy can be purchase for 10 bucks used? What this is telling me is that art is something like gold or silver – a commodity less than a production of the human spirit. An inert thing that might rest in someone’s vault for centuries, and then be transported to a museum (via a tax deduction) where bored people will gape at it just because it’s known to be so valuable.

            I know I’m a contrarian on the subject. If there is true joy to be had from such stuff, I’m all for it, but I also believe some of that joy is being faked for appearances. It wouldn’t do to reveal oneself as a cultural idiot, so best to play along!

            • JHF March 26, 2013, 3:34 PM

              Well, the Dante would be one volume out of many thousands, presumably. Exclusivity counts for an awful lot.

  • mj March 26, 2013, 8:13 PM

    Oh my, art is to like or dislike, who cares what the deep dark secret of why and what does it mean. We as artists really don’t care if you get us or not! It’s for our liking and our own understanding, not always for someone else.
    Ken just say, “Nice cat, dude!”

  • Ken Webb March 27, 2013, 3:02 AM

    Okay, I guess it won’t kill me to say it: “Nice cat, dude.” –Now, does that earn me the right to have any thoughts? Or are artists unaccountable sphinxes – inscrutable, distant, inhuman?

    • JHF March 27, 2013, 7:52 AM

      Have you ever thought how utterly banal a talking sphinx would be???

      And thank you. 🙂

      • Ken Webb March 27, 2013, 10:30 AM

        I have no objection to sphinxes. Let them sit in the desert and keep their traps shut. That’s what a sphinx is supposed to do. The choice is not between a talking sphinx and a silent sphinx, but whether the metaphor itself is apt as a description for the making and interpreting of art. You and mj seem to think so, I don’t. We have here that most invigorating of all human situations – a disagreement. Human consciousness is thereby enhanced!

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