The Tantalizing Void: Whisker Violin Edition

Dear Artiphans,

The most famous rivalry in the pet world may be that between cat and dog...but the (sometimes fatal) tension between cat and bird is a far more complex one: full of temptation, dramatic escapes, feather and fur.

John’s “Whisker Violin” is a prolific image. Over the years, it’s made its way from the front of a greeting card, to the joker of our Kitten Club pack of cards, to the sides of a mug, to the fabric of a tea towel. It comes in black and white, in full color, in a wash of blue. Why is this image so versatile? Is it the tiny hats on the birds’ little heads (some of which are really quite jaunty)? Is it the comedy of the cat’s stretched whiskers? These are elements to this image’s appeal, but there is something deeper there too, something lurking at Whisker Violin’s visual core that deserves a reveal.

“Cats and birds are of course natural adversaries,” John explains. “The image I came up with reconciles in a comical way the relationship between these animals with music. It is a joyful image and represents a scene of cooperation between two traditional antagonists.”

We all crave evidence of harmony. We live in a time where division is doing its darndest to define who we are as...well, as humans no less. But when you look for it, when you notice what pulls on your heartstrings or makes you laugh—what, in short, inspires you—it is harmony above all. The viral videos of long-lost families being reunited, the Humans of New York photographs of unlikely friendships found in unlikely places, the weddings of strangers that make us cry. Is this too much of a stretch? I do not think so. This is the stuff that Whisker Violin is made of.

That, of course, and John’s usual tongue-in-cheek humor. “The cat wants to make friends, and adds his whisker violin to the bird’s music,” he describes. “When I considered which instrument the cat might play I finally settled on the violin because of the visual similarity between the cat’s whiskers and the strings of the violin. This is the kind of discovery that makes me laugh while I am creating the preliminary drawings.” If the creator laughs while creating, you better bet that creation is made in the spirit of fun.

On the practical end of things, Whisker Violin has, in the truest sense, made its rounds in the Artiphany universe. It has, in fact, made its way into virtually every sector of our products. What’s interesting about this is not necessarily how multifaceted this image has become for us as a small business, but rather what each of the different forms lends to the storytelling of the image. “I’ve made this image work in several ways, or at least I’ve tried to reformat it for different uses,” John says. “One, of course, was the original drawing, which was just a greeting card, where everything is seen all at once: the cat in the tree, with the birds around, one of the birds holding a sheet of music.”

“And then I wanted to put it on a mug, which has a different quality in how the story is revealed,” he continues, “in that you don’t see it all at once: you turn the cup in your hand and you see all the leaves, and then some birds, and then the cat appears and you see what the whole story is about. I like that very much, it’s almost like an animation in that you have to turn it in your hand to see it. Of course, I’d love to do this as a [real] animation. And maybe one day I will get the chance to do that. Because adding the sound and the birds fluttering around would make a wonderful image, a little 15-second moment of happy cooperation between the birds and the cat.”

And now, though John has done some of the work already, a Tantalizing Void entry would not be complete without a little ekphrasis.

So, in words, this is what the many renditions of Whisker Violin bring together: A cat sits on a branch. The claws of his right paw are wrapped around the tips of his whiskers, pulling them away from his face to form his instrument. With his left paw, he holds a bow (strung with tail hairs?) and fiddles away on his makeshift violin. All around him, birds, their beaks open in song, keep his tune, unafraid of their once-predatory neighbor. In some editions, these birds wear the (aforementioned) jaunty hats of a festive occasion; one holds the cat’s sheet music in his steady beak. Above the cat, a snail makes his leisurely way along a curved branch. The cat is smiling; so are the birds, judging by their eyes (how is it that he’s made a bird’s eyes smile?).

Summer is here, they say. 

Now....get off your computers and tablets and phones and out to the dog park! All of you! Don't make me bark at you!

Love and dog bones,

Man’s Best Friend & Chief Communications Officer                                                                       (Personal Motto: Live Life Off Leash)