The Life of Mr. Cat Through Ong Xing Ru’s Latest Work
The origin of how cats came to be in our life can be dated back to over 10,000 years ago in Israel where rodents were attracted to the grain stores which in turn would attract wild cats. Cats were so vital in the history of humans especially during the Egyptian period where it became a divine symbol. Many hieroglyphs containing cats and even statues created for worshipping; fast forward to the current era, nothing has changed much in term of cat worshipping where even now we still keep them as pets even though their function as predator has dwindle down.
As the case for Ong Xing Ru, she has been fascinated with cat since her childhood days where she keeps one as pet. Xing Ru found that cats are very intelligent creatures happily living their daily lives making it an endless inspiration for her. Graduating from Malaysian Institute of Art in 2008, her initial works were mostly melancholic where she choses fish as her main subject matter. Only in 2012 when she was experiencing some downsides in her life and her cousin has adopted a naughty little orange cat.
The presence of the cat in her life has uplift her moods and added more joy in her life; that was when she decided to fully delve into creating cat as the main theme for her works. Consistent she has been in creating cat painting that she even calls herself cat artist on her Instagram.
In 2014, she was awarded with a solo exhibition at Galeri Chandan as one of the prizes for winning the Malaysian Emerging Artist Award 2013. Entitled Dream World, she created a total of 12 paintings of cat dancing around that have a very surreal feel to it. This may link back to Franz Kafka being her favourite authors thus making her work evokes a feeling of senselessness and disorientation feels to it.
More than eight years have passed after her first solo exhibition and it feels like a different lifetime ago due to the pandemic that has struck the world. Xing Ru has been producing works during the various lockdowns and restriction over the course of 2019 to 2022 and now are ready to present them in her second solo exhibition. If her works in the Dream World consists of cats and also a human figure, this time there are no human presence except for the anthropomorphic cat which Xing Ru has aptly name Mr. Cat.
Her paintings still resonate the surrealness although compared to her previous solo, this one has a more cheerful tone to it and it is very appropriate choice as the world has suffered enough through the two-year pandemic. Back in 2017, Xing Ru has fallen in love with sketching while having a walk at places such as forest, garden and beach. In this exhibition, she hopes to bring the leisurely mood that she had during her walk into her paintings by having Mr. Cat as the main subject in most of her paintings.
The paintings in this exhibition follows the life of Mr. Cat, the anthropomorphic cat character created by Xing Ru inspired by changes that happened on her life. We can see how Mr. Cat leisurely spends his times in various places. For Morning Breakfast, we can see Mr. Cat working at a café with teddy bears as his assistant where the inspiration for this work came from the Xing Ru’s love for coffee.
Her love for coffee also has been interpreted in Window where we can see Mr. Cat spend his day at the beach while the POV seems to be from someone peering from the window with coffee at the sill. Xing Ru’s newfound passion of sketching in her walkabout in the forest can be seen in Rainforest in Dream. It has a dreamy look to it to express the memories that she had of her walk of which she has not been to the forest in two years due to the pandemic.
There are also three works that represents parks that she went on her walkabout and one of the painting, Wedding talks about how Xing Ru encounters with wedding couples during her walk while Sunrise in Yellow Flowers was inspired by the joy that she found in the animals that she stumbled upon during her walk in the park. Lastly, reminiscing her childhood days where her father would take here to the seaside in Penang during vacation, Xing Ru has created Fantasy Garden.
Blue rose is often associated with thoughts, dreams, feelings and sensitivity while black cat is considered a bad omen in the West, there are also multiple superstitions that considered black cats brings luck and prosperity. Xing Ru has mentioned that she created Blue Rose and Black Cat, a portrait of Mr. Cat holding a black cat with blue roses on the background for her to express her inner emotions that is difficult to describe. Playing along with the surreality, Xing Ru has created World in Tree where the inspiration for the work came from an old big tree that she passed by during her early morning walk.
There are also a few paintings devoid of Mr. Cat and this reflect back to times that the nation is in lockdown. Clown-Fish and Shark contain various cats trying their luck at a claw machine and this work talked about the period that Xing Ru were forced to stay at home due to the Movement Control Order so she spent most of her time playing games on her phones.
Lastly, Endless Strawberries 2019 is Xing Ru’s favourite pieces out of all the works that she created for this exhibition. This work talks about something morbid; the pandemic in a cheerful kind of way where she paints a little black cat on a boat oversees by a row of orang cat with strawberries on the background. Xing Ru paints the work to record the situation of the pandemic which was at its peak on June 2021, the same month that she created this work.
Ong Xing Ru’s cat paintings may resemble something cute and cheerful at a glance but looking deeper into her works presents a deeper meaning. Meanings that talk about memories, sadness and longing. It shows that something gloomy does not have to be represented in only a low-spirited way but cheerful works can also talk about it.