Louis Wain was an English artist known for drawing cats, going crazy, and then drawing more cats. Later in his life he developed schizophrenia and psychologists believe that his descent into madness can be clearly seen in his cat drawings.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterised by a total disintegration of nearly every aspect of human psychology, including thought, perception, behaviour, language, emotion and communication; these disturbances usually manifest in visual/auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, disorganised speech and complete social dysfunction – in other words, schizophrenia is the deep end in the pool of mental disorders.
Let’s take a journey through Wain’s psychological breakdown through the following pencil and oil on canvas portraits of cats below.
Believe it or not, this is pre-schizophrenia.
Wain was always fascinated by cats, but when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, he started drawing them in silly situations to amuse her. His drawings grew in popularity and were featured on greeting cards and in magazines and newspapers. Life was good, that is until his wife died of said cancer and he started to lose control of his mind.
“During the onset of his disease at 57, Wain continued to paint, draw and sketch cats, but the focus changed from fanciful situations, to focus on the cats themselves.”
Wain began using more vibrant colours and used sharp outlines for the fur. The outlines also became noticeably darker, especially around the head. Finally, the background of the portrait has shifted to an almost psychedelic pattern of abstract colours and shapes.
“Characteristic changes in the art began to occur, changes common to schizophrenic artists. Jagged lines of bright color began emanating from his feline subjects. The outlines of the cats became severe and spiky, and their outlines persisted well throughout the sketches, as if they were throwing off energy.”
By now the psychedelic patterned backgrounds have slipped into the cat itself, resulting in surreal patterns and colours enclosed in an outline of a cat’s body. This cat looks quite sad or depressed, in comparison to the above cats which look quite surprised or anxious. Depression and Anxiety are typical mental dysfunctions experienced by those suffering from schizophrenia, although in a much more extreme form.
“Soon the cats became abstracted, seeming now to be made up of hundreds of small repetitive shapes, coming together in a clashing jangles of color that transform the cat into something resembling an Eastern deity.”
At this stage the drawings become more disturbed; it is clear that Wain’s hallucinations are increasing in severity as these drawings look more like demonic oriental dragons on drugs than cats.
“The abstraction continued, the cats now being seen as made up by small repeating patterns, almost fractal in nature. Until finally they ceased to resemble cats at all, and became the ultimate abstraction, an indistinct form made up by near symmetrical repeating patterns.”
Finally, here are the images in the order they are usually presented in psychology text books.
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