—The Huffington Post
Internet meme meets classical art in Svetlana Petrova’s brilliant Fat Cat Art. Featuring her twenty-two-pound, ginger-colored cat Zarathustra superimposed onto some of the greatest artworks of all time, Petrova’s paintings are an Internet sensation. Now fans will have the ultimate full-color collection of her work, including several never-before-seen pieces, to savor for themselves or to give as a gift to fellow cat lovers.
From competing with Venus’s sexy reclining pose (and almost knocking her off her chaise lounge in the process) in Titian’s Venus of Urbino, to exhibiting complete disdain as he skirts away from God’s pointing finger in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, Zarathustra single-handedly rewrites art history in the way that only an adorable fat cat can.
|Penguin Publishing Group
|6.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.80(d)
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Circa 1955, Toksovo, Russia, self-portrait by Tatiana Iskuzhina
How I Met Zarathustra the Cat
Perhaps you were a bit surprised to see on the cover of this book that my coauthor is not a human, but a Cat. It is not a joke or a marketing trick; the impact of Zarathustra on my work is so important that he fully deserves to be coauthor of our Fat Cat Art project.
First let me introduce myself. My name is Svetlana Petrova. I am a woman living in St. Petersburg, Russia. I am a graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy of St. Petersburg State University. After graduating with a first-class degree, I discovered that I am too independent to work in the “system.” So I became an artist.
In fact, I had been drawing and writing poetry from childhood. My mother taught me everything, although she was not a professional artist herself. She was an engineer and a teacher of cybernetics at the St. Petersburg Naval Institute, but she was an artist in her soul. My mother made beautiful black-and-white photos, which she then painted in aquarelle colors, such as the self-portrait on the dedication page. You can see she was a beautiful and elegant woman. So it’s no surprise that my path in art began in the fields of fashion and theater. I created a bizarre fashion show called L.E.M.—Laboratory of Experimental Models—and toured it all over Europe in the nineties.
I have always been very curious and liked to investigate new fields, so I decided to become an event producer. I got acquainted with lots of interesting people in my travels and wanted to present their art in my country and so I brought to Russia some live music and theater acts. Meanwhile I was interested in implanting video screens in my costumes and did so with a screen displaying interactive moving images controlled by computer. Thus I fell in love with animation. And in 2003, I created the International Festival of Animation Arts: Multivision, now one of the oldest and biggest international animation festivals, with a professional jury, in Russia. It is famous for my large-scale video installations on the raised drawbridges over the Neva River in St. Petersburg that take place each summer.
So everything was fine, and in 2008 more than fifty thousand spectators gathered at the giant video installation on the two main bridges of St. Petersburg. It was my biggest triumph. My mother was so proud of me and we spent a wonderful time in her summerhouse, once I had recovered from the hard work.
And then my mother died.
I was her only child, and other than me she just had one beloved being, a ginger Cat, Zarathustra. Of course I adopted him after her death. Zarathustra was and is a living memory of my mother. She asked me to take care of him, and so I do, as far as I can.
Here I should say that I am very close to Cats because my family always had Cats, going as far back as we can trace our history (from the nineteenth century). I grew up with a little kitten called Marussia, or just Murka, who was the same age as me. I would say we developed some kind of telepathic liaison. It was so sad that she died from old age when I was only fifteen! So it is natural for me to understand Cats.
Then our family had an unbelievable ginger Cat called Vladimir Vorotnikov, or simply Vova. He was a philosopher and a talking Cat. You know Cats try to imitate human speech when you talk to them often. It’s a known fact that was revealed by a group of zoological psychologists. Other zoological psychologists who differ on this point, by the way, are not worthy of their degrees!
As well as Vova, I had an adorable Cat-actor named Marcus Aurelius Wolfgang Amadeus. Marc the Cat performed in my shows Swan Lake II and Moulin Russe . . . wherein he played the role of the God of Mice, wearing wings made of feathers that perfectly matched in color his gray tabby fur.
Marc the Cat performing in L.E.M. theater
After my mother’s death, I sank into the most terrible depression. I was so close to my mother. I missed her so much, and I am still missing her.
And it was Zarathustra who saved me from that depression.
One day a friend said to me: “You created such amazing art with your Cat Marc in your L.E.M. shows. Why don’t you do something with your new Cat, Zarathustra. He is so funny!” And he was: he was fat; my mother spoiled him immensely. As my mother herself would say, he is “the best Cat in the world.”
I thought: “Why not? It will distract me from my grief,” and I began to think what I would do. It was useless to put wings on him like on Marc, because Zarathustra is clearly unable to fly, with his physical condition. So I thought that maybe I could make a photo session with food in the style of Dutch still-life paintings. To imagine how it would look, I decided to photoshop Zarathustra into such a painting. I had used Photoshop for sketches of the sets for my events and costumes. And I don’t know why, but I photoshopped him into another painting, Danae by Rembrandt. Then I did this with four more classical paintings and sent them to some friends, who are artists and collectors, just to see their reaction.
Never before have I seen serious ladies weeping, and having to lie down, from laughing. I received so much praise: “How naturally Zarathustra fits into the paintings!,” “It reveals something new in their meaning,” something that made people happy.
The impression was so good not just because my artistic skills had been validated but because of the work of Zarathustra. In fact, he is a natural-born artist and he knows he is making art. Zarathustra adores posing when people are taking photos of him. He is always very friendly to photographers. He knows who is a photographer and begins to flatter those people. It’s amazing how he knows!
He has found a special place for work as a model. In my apartment there is a podium covered by a big carpet—it looks like a stage. When Zarathustra wants to pose, he shows me that I should go there, then he lies down on this carpet and begins to make very funny poses with a very serious face. He has a rich repertoire of mimicry and can make different expressive grimaces. The camera likes him.
Despite having this star character, he is a very sensitive and tender Cat, a real gentleman, or better, a “gentlecat.” Everybody who meets him is astonished and says that he is somebody special. He really is ten kilograms (twenty-two pounds) of pure undisturbed joy.
Concerning his weight, it may sound strange, but he eats very little. Actually, he is trying to lose weight by keeping to a very strict diet of high-quality veterinary Cat food. If on occasion he wants something tastier, he chooses only healthy treats, such as raw beef and king prawns. King prawns are his favorite food, but of course not more than three prawns per week.
My heart bleeds forcing him to be on this diet, but what can I do? However, I can say that he tolerates the diet restriction with dignity, much more dignity than I would have being on a diet.
The very positive reaction to my first experiments with Zarathustra encouraged me a lot, and I launched the site FatCatArt.com in February 2011. I put it online and then left it. I wanted to see if it would spread naturally, without any effort from my side. At that time I was occupied with other projects.
In late autumn, at the closing event of my animated film festival Multivision, one of the film directors noticed Zarathustra’s image in my portfolio and asked me why I had this image. I answered, “. . . because I made it,” to which he responded, “Why don’t you have a look at the Internet? It’s full of your Cat!” I explored the Internet and was astonished: Zarathustra was everywhere.
In fact, I was always interested in Internet culture. I dreamed of making an experiment: to create an Internet meme that would be both beautiful and clever. I liked this idea both practically and philosophically. This virus should bring some information, create some stimulus to know more. It should be a virus of freedom for aspiring to new knowledge and not a virus of simply repeating what has been done before.
People who discover my Cat paintings are likely to google for the originals. Of course not all of them do that, but just a few of them doing so makes it worthwhile. The “Cat-infused” paintings fit perfectly with my idea of a clever and beautiful meme.
Making this project has brought me a lot of knowledge also. I have studied in detail the style of the old masters, their technique. Now I can make my paintings look as if they are real paintings made by an old master, in spite of the fact I have inserted a photo of a modern kitty, using a computer.
I should say that digital media gives people incredible possibilities to interact with art. If you change something in the digital image, it doesn’t change anything in the real world.
Excerpted from "Fat Cat Art"
Copyright © 2015 Svetlana Petrova.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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What People are Saying About This
On Svetlana Petrova:
"Every nerd loves a great cat meme, and artist Svetlana Petrova’s work on classic paintings featuring her big ginger cat Zarathustra takes it to a whole new level."
"Russian artist Svetlana Petrova has created a series of cat-infused classic art pieces. An ode to her own cat Zarathustra, Petrova's work is unlike any other series."
"Now that's what we call a masterpuss."
"A Russian artist has taken hundreds of classic paintings and Photoshoppped her pet cat Zarathustra into them, making them, in our opinion, 89426576 times better."