23. The Owl and the Pussycat

Oil on canvas – 43 x 99 cm

The Owl and the Pussycat is a poem about making the impossible possible. Inter-species love affairs are a rare thing and generally speaking birds and cats are sworn enemies, the only thing they have in common is a love of hunting. Yet in this poem the owl woos the cat and they end up getting married and living happily ever after

There is something very English about so called nonsense poetry asides from Edward Lear there are several nonsense poems in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. Kenneth Graham’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ is about as English as you an get and there are many other poets and artists who produced work on these themes, notably Richard Dadd’s marvelous fantasy picture ‘The Faery Feller’s Masterstroke’.

If we look at the influence of psychedelic music in the 60’s we find that the UK interpretation was very different to the American take. The English pop groups were very much influenced by writers such as Lear and Carroll, we can see that especially in the music of Pink Floyd when Syd Barret was the leader of the group. The English psychedelia was inclined towards whimsy and world of the imagination whereas the American music was much more hard edged possibly because the youth of America  had to contend with the Vietnam war.

This is a painting that I was commissioned to do. I have always loved this poem and I like art that humanizes animals, sometimes this is called ‘Topsy Turvy World’ or the ‘World Turned Upside-down’. I wanted to paint a picture that was dreamy and atmospheric. The main problem I had was with the cat and how to make her look really ladylike.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

BY EDWARD LEAR

I

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

And sang to a small guitar,

“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,

What a beautiful Pussy you are,

You are,

You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!

How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:

But what shall we do for a ring?”

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood

With a ring at the end of his nose,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.

III

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon,

The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

http://colinmurrayart.co.uk

Author: Colin's Art Blog

Self employed artist living in Hackney in London.

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