How did you get started with art? Were cats always your muse?

I’ve always been artistic; I went to school for architecture and that just didn’t pan out. I did a lot of illustration work and then I got into collage. Once I got into digital collage, I started making these giant cat pieces—I had this idea running through my head.

I hadn’t lived with cats until I was in my 20s, when I moved with someone who had a cat. I started to really resonate with their personalities. Cats are more aligned with humans than any other pet or domestic animal. They became my muse after that.

I would do illustration work and always be drawn to cats. The giant cat pieces idea actually came from watching my own cats, seeing how they interacted with bugs around the house and stuff. We were living in New York at the time, so I thought, “What if I started putting these giant cats in urban settings?” and the idea kind of took off from there.

It was also a time when I was searching for my own voice and the cats became my muse, they became my outlet. Through their personalities, I was able to express what I was trying to say.

Who are/were your biggest artistic influences for your art?

The pop artists and mid-century modern architects had a huge influence on me growing up and I feel like some of their sensibilities are still present in my work. I like pieces to be funny or clever and I’m very focused on craft when creating. I also enjoy the process of finding connections between two images, and the works of collage artists John Stezaker and Kensuke Koike are inspiring to me. And while I’m not a photographer, I would be remiss to not recognize the work of Walter Chandoha, the world’s greatest cat photographer. His images defined the way the 20th century viewed cats and paved the way for the internet cat culture of today.

How many cats do you have? What are their names? Are they the cats you usually portray?

Currently, I only have one cat. His name is Atticus and he’s 17 years old. He’s a black cat and he’s very, very distinguished. My wife [Katherine Cox] and I looked into adopting for several years, but it was kind of like “cats will find you,” and they did. We’ve stumbled across a couple outside our grocery store and rescued them. We gave them great lives. We only have one old man and no plans to add any. He’s our main focus right now.

I don’t actually use any of our cats for my pieces. It’s hard for me because I know their personalities so well. I prefer using and finding public domain cats because it gives me an empty palette to put my own personality to that cat. I rarely use mine.

I’m also really bad at photographing Atticus. Since he’s black, we call him “The Void.” I can never get a great photo of him to use for my art. The public domain cats are easier to work with.

What’s your favorite piece to date?

I have many favorites, but one that resonates with me right now is the first piece you’ll see when you walk into my Magnus Cattus show. It’s titled “Campfire Tales” and features an enormous cat making eye contact with you, illuminated in the glow of a campfire. I was inspired by the way a good story can fully transport you somewhere you’ve never been to experience things you never thought possible. It’s something I try to do with every piece I create.

Matt McCarthy’s Magnus Cattus art show is going on until June 28 at the Cary Arts Center.

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