Pet project
China Daily     Updated: 2022-03-01

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Thunderstorm Petricek. [Photo provided to China Daily]

An art exhibition in Xi'an highlights the role cats play in people's lives, Chen Nan reports.

"Behind many great artists is a great… cat," wrote artist and culture journalist Alison Nastasi in her book, Artists and Their Cats. "Many artists buck notions of a stereotypical temperament, but researchers have long speculated that creative individuals share common attributes-which mirror those of cats."

Many great artists like Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol have shared one very special love: the companionship of cats. And their furry friends also have inspired artists for centuries.

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The exhibition setting of Rimashevsky Igor Vileorovich's cat-themed paintings at Xi'an Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Rimashevsky Igor Vileorovich, an artist from Belarus, also enjoys endearing friendships with his four cats, with the oldest being 24 years old and youngest around 5.

"I live with them and I observe them. Sometimes they sleep on my desk, which is full of paint tubes and sometimes they rub against my ankles with their heads while I am painting," says Vileorovich. "We also sleep together and they sometimes perch on top of my head. The role that my cats play in my life is hard to ignore."

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Holiday Time. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The artist has been painting about cats from around three decades ago, ever since he owned his first cat-a black cat when he was a child. So far, he has finished 200 paintings of cats.

Now, under the title of Find Meow Notice, 60 cat-themed paintings are being displayed at Xi'an Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. The exhibition is scheduled to run through June.

Vileorovich's paintings depict cats against different backgrounds such as the artist's home. In one of the paintings, titled Cat Mom, the artist portrays a senior woman lying on her sofa with 10 cats of different colors, types and sizes playing around.

In a painting, titled Midsummer, he highlights a black-and-white cat drinking tap water with a fresh barrel of flowers around. In Grandfather's Shed, he has two cats sitting at the door of a woodshed, which stocks things such as carpentry tools, a bicycle and a weeding machine. Outside the woodshed, there are two men: one is resting while smoking a cigarette and the other is working in the garden. In other paintings on cats, Vileorovich also features the natural scenery and city life in Minsk, Belarus' capital, where he also lives and where viewers can see cats living among people.

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Fantasies of Personal Exhibition. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Cats are wonderful subjects to sketch. Often I find my ideas when I sketch my cats. Their quick graceful movements and smooth, elegant lines are very inspiring. I love watching them while drawing. Of course, to capture my cats in motion, I need a quick eye and quicker hand," says Vileorovich. "They also have vivid facial expressions, like anger, smile, surprise and sadness."

It's not the first time that Vileorovich's paintings are displayed in China. In 2010, as one of the representative artists from Belarus, Vileorovich had his paintings displayed during the Shanghai World Expo. The paintings were not cat-themed, though. In 2021, over 30 of his paintings portraying cats were showcased at Tianqiao Performing Arts Center in Beijing. However, the artist has never been to China.

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Sports Festival. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"I cannot remember when I started to paint. All my childhood friends painted, so I painted as well. We loved to go to the art class to paint together," recalls Vileorovich, who graduated from Minsk Art College in 1979.

"I spend lots of time working in my studio. My cats are important sources of emotional support and I am inspired by their constant companionship. Not only cats, I also feel happy and inspired when I am with other animals such as dogs and birds. Though animals don't speak in human language, they are not silent. They constantly communicate with you."

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Vileorovich's paintings depict cats against different backgrounds. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Founded in 2012, Xi'an Qujiang Museum of Fine Arts is located near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a symbolic site in Xi'an built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). According to Lin Shaoping, deputy director of the museum, the ongoing exhibition was first planned in 2019, when it was the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belarus. Besides Vileorovich's paintings, paintings by two other artists from Belarus, Lyudmila Schemeleva and Vladislav Stalmakhov, are displayed at the exhibition that also portrays people, animals and the city of Minsk.

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Wedding Night. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"The exhibition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we discovered many interesting stories between cats and humans during the pandemic, which we have collected and are showing to our audiences at this exhibition," says Lin.

One of the stories about cats and their owners has been shared by Xi'an native Miao Jiang, who adopted a cat in June.

"I always wanted to have a cat but my parents didn't agree. Now my cat is about 10 months old and she helped us endure this challenging time. She has provided us with emotional comfort," Miao says.

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The exhibition is scheduled to run through June. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In December and January, Xi'an again battled a COVID-19 outbreak. Miao had to stay at home like many people in the city and her cat calmed her, lowered her stress levels and eased her loneliness by offering companionship.

"When I read, played video games or played my piano, my cat quietly watched me. When I got bored, she came closer and I played with her," Miao says.

Zhou Xue, also a Xi'an native, saved a cat when Xi'an saw COVID-19 cases rise earlier this year and has adopted him. "I heard meowing from my roof and I tried to see what happened through my window. I saw a cat trapped on the roof. It was cold outside and I had no idea how long he was there."

Then she climbed the roof, tempted the cat with a sausage and pulled him to safety.

"I already had a cat, named Fei Fei, who is 5 years old. I was worried about introducing the new cat to Fei Fei. Thankfully, they get along fine," Zhou adds.

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Cat Mom. [Photo provided to China Daily]