From Wagga Wagga to the World: How "Rescue Cats" Launched a Viral Art Sensation

Mini the cat gets her paws dirty
(images copyright: Tegan Ellis)

Jackson Pollock stood over his paintings as he made them, but I bet he couldn't paint with his feet! Perhaps he could have learned a thing or two from two abandoned cats that are taking the world by storm. In an effort to raise money to continue saving abandoned felines, Australian cat rescuers Louise Clayton and Tegan Ellis came up with the idea of selling paw print paintings which are created by allowing the cats to walk over a canvas with paint on their feet. Amazingly, though they only came up with this idea last week, media requests have surged in from all over the globe as their adventure into animal art attracts a blinding hot media spotlight on these obscure activists in the town of Wagga Wagga. It has even stimulated its own minor media ethics scandal (see below).

These aren't the first cats to have been recognised for their artistic talents, of course. In fact, a book has been written on this very subject. Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics by New Zealand philosopher Burton Silver is the go-to guide for cat art aficionados. "The fact that some domestic cats are able to make marks with paint has always been explained by biologists as an instinctive form of territorial marking behavior," Silver writes. "Why Cats Paint presents a cogently argued theory based on recent evidence which clearly supports the view that some cats' marks are aesthetically motivated and should be regarded as genuine works of non-primate art."

I recently caught up with Tegan to see what all the fuss is about. 

Describe how and why you and your mum came up with the Rescue Cat Art idea.

The idea for the Rescue Cat Art came about as we have an account with our local vet, who has always been very generous with us in respect to the length of time which it takes for us to pay our bills (We have spent in excess of $30,000 in the past 10 years with our animals). We had come up with the idea some time ago and approached our vet to see the possibility of holding a raffle to raise funds with the artwork, but as we are private individuals, we were unable to. Also here in Wagga Wagga you are required to have a licence, so it would defeat the purpose of creating the art as we would be paying out money instead of receiving money to pay off our bill.

I thought it would be a good and unique way of raising funds as I have never seen or heard of Cat Art before; although since starting I have become aware that it is rarely done, and when it is, it is not as decorative as ours is.

How much do you sell your Rescue Cat art for?

We have not worked out a price yet, as we have been flooded with media requests and only started making Rescue Cat Art a little over a week ago. If people email us walburn[at] we will put them onto a waiting list where we will notify everyone who is interested in purchasing one of the pieces what the prices are.

What has the reaction been to the paintings?

To be frank there has been little reaction from the general public... The occasional “cute," "cute idea," etc. The media reaction has been viral, however, the story has taken on "a mind of its own" and is no longer the correct and truthful account of how and why we came up with this idea to raise funds to pay off our vet bill.

Have you had any galleries approach you about representation?

Unfortunately, we approached our local art gallery here in Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia and the response was quite disheartenin. We were told if we wanted to have a show we would have to fill out a submission form and IF that was accepted we would then possibly be able to have a show anywhere from 2013-2014 and even that was not a guarantee.

Which human artists do you think the cats' art resembles most?

Well, the newspapers have been comparing the artwork to Picasso and Monet and recently in the UK to Damien Hirst (telling him to move aside).

How will all this publicity assist your cause?

At the moment it is helping us spread the world of our endeavours. However, it is disheartening to learn that one of the newspapers who contacted us to do a story about the artwork has been selling the article and photos of the art taken by their free-lance photographer.  The shots where greatly assisted by ourselves to the point of suggesting ideas for the photo and assisting with getting the perfect shot. We have not received any monetary gain for any of the articles which we have appeared in, so where we are at this moment in time is that we have exposure but no sales and no acknowledgement for assistance with obtaining the beautiful pictures that have been captured.

100 percent of all proceeds from the sale of Rescue Cat Art go directly to paying off our vet bill.

RESCUE CAT ART WILL BE LIMITED IN ITS QUANITY PRODUCED. WE DO NOT BELIEVE IN SLAVE ANIMAL LABOUR. When the cats have had enough of painting we do not force them to continue; we allow them to dictate when the paints are done. Non-Toxic paint is used and we have checked with our vet that it is indeed safe to use on animals.

To see a slide show of Louise and Tegan's "Rescue Cats" at work, click on the slide show.