Episode 015: A Plethora of Cats
In which we discuss necessary reassessments, bowls of milk, and Playboy Magazine
Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. One of many artists, musicians, and writers whose work has been rightfully reassessed through a modern view of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And one of those many artists, musicians, and writers where one must make their own personal decision on separating the art from the artist.
I support Geisel’s literary executors’ 2021 decision to take a number of his books out of print due to racist imagery and subject matter. I also believe that people are complex, particularly artists, and so much of his work—the colors, the wacky characters, the brilliantly simple rhymes—are not just iconic, but have truly shaped the way children (and adults!) see the world.
I think that anyone who has read his books, which is basically everybody, can see this was not a man about exclusion or denigration. I think he was just a man of his time, with blind spots like so many other people.
Most people know his books, yet it’s his art I love most. From Maurice Sendak’s foreword to “The Secret Art of Dr. Suess”:
The book is filled with fabulous geometric conundrums. Their milky, thirties movieland dippiness best conjures for me the private Seussian dreamscape…where loops and hoops and squares and limp bagel shapes, all charged with exotic color, have the demented nightmare effects provoked by a dinner of green eggs and ham.
A Plethora of Cats. This is undoubtedly my favorite of all Geisel’s “adult” art.
Q: How do you make a bunch of cats talk musically?
A: No idea.
That said, I played the main theme with sounds that I thought replicated a late-night cat yowl outside a window. It's a combo of a few old-school synth sounds and actual samples of cats meowing, all layered together and effected up. Do you hear the catty-ness?
Made the drums and bass a bit scruffy, trying to play up the idea of cats roaming alleys before dawn. Prowling and yowling.
If you listen carefully, there is a loud Sluuurrp! leading into the second drop. Sounded to me a little like a big cartoon cat drinking milk from a bowl in a Dr. Seuss book.
Finally, the cats’ glowing eyes make me think of stars. So I needed a shimmering background drone set to the beat that kind of sounded like twinkling stars.
Geisel kept this painting displayed in his studio for years; whenever he was stuck working on something else, he would add another cat. How many cats do you think there are?
My art reductions often take a grid-like approach. Usually, I spread the original over boxes that are all the same size, but here I felt I needed to emphasize a few of the bigger kitties.
I believe this reduction took longer than any other I’ve done. I needed at least one big cat for each color, and I tried to keep the number of cats for each color pretty even throughout.
Colors. If you have been following for a while, you'll notice that this is the first of these reductions in which I've ever used more than five colors. I just couldn't help it—there are so many great different colored cats!
Apologies to any five-color-purists out there.
The cats seem bigger at the top than at the bottom for some reason. To capture that expanding feeling, I angled the boxes from bottom to top more and more from the center out. I think it works.
392 cats in all. What was your guess?
The list of children’s artists and writers who also produced work that was NOT for children is fairly long. Roald Dahl. J.K. Rowling. Even Shel Silverstein—he wrote for Playboy!
Geisel did a lot of work that was decidedly not for kids. And not just sneaky cat art. He also wrote two books for adults, including the criminally underappreciated The Seven Lady Godivas.
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and cartoon cats], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.