Artist Erika Chapman paints distinctive cat portraits on plexiglass that capture each animal’s unique personality. See more of her charming artwork by visiting her website.
My cats—individualistic, demonstrative, occasionally volatile—act as surrogates for things I feel uncomfortable expressing verbally.
Joy, rage, fear, serenity, regret, worry, excitement, playfulness; these emotions are all much more manageable when they belong to someone else and I am just borrowing them. I get to peel them apart and investigate them while slowly applying layer on layer of translucent paint. Representing these feelings on someone else’s face—not just “someone not me,” but an entirely different species, is a way to analyze them as an alien culture might.
Painting is also an avenue for me to connect with others, human and feline. My project, The Sandwich Cats began as simple cartoons drawn on my daughter’s sandwich bags. It wasn’t long before I dove back into my love for painting, a process I hadn’t touched for years. The paintings quickly became larger and more complex.
As my Instagram community grew, I made friends in cat and art communities from around the world. Their feedback became a driving force. The knowledge that my paintings bring joy to others pushes me through late nights at my desk perfecting galaxy eyes, a smirk or a fierce glare—the spark that makes that cat special to their human.
One constant throughout my work, in this and previous projects, is the process of building translucent layers. I use plexiglass for my canvas, and for these paintings, I use both sides of it. When I use thicker cuts of plexi, the distance between the painting on front and the painting on back creates movement and dimension. The back becomes its own separate world, a combination of reverse painting and abstract elements. Sometimes I fall in love with Verso World and record the strange images to share with the finished painting.
Early on, I began visiting a local shelter to photograph (and befriend, cuddle or in the case of ferals, respect the personal space of) new subjects. The resulting paintings showed me that my work could also improve lives. I began incorporating cats from other shelters in other states and countries.
Some of my subjects are still recovering from neglect and injury. Others have been socialized and are looking for an adopter. A few are narrative diptychs, one done at the time of rescue, the other done months later, showing the result of love and patience. I paint and post them in the hopes of making an adoption match and to raise awareness and funds for the organizations.
My commissioned pieces explore friendship, love, grief and “catplay” in different ways. Many, such as Mirage and Ollie, are memories of beloved cats who have passed away.
Others, such as Marley stretching to reach her human’s outstretched hand, are a tribute to feline-human relationships.
One of my favorites (if I can say I have favorites) is a victory portrait of Mandy, my oldest friend’s 20-year-old Persian, celebrating her recovery from cancer. That is, I think, the whole point: a celebration of love, personal growth and the road still left to travel. And admitting that I’m pretty feral myself.