Giant cat art, surreal felines at Cary Arts Center show


Matt McCarthy’s “Magnus Cattus” show comes to Cary Arts Center starting Thursday, June 2, featuring outsized felines in outrageous composite poses.

Courtesy of Matt McCarthy

As a cat owner, Matt McCarthy had long watched his pair of felines batting bugs around the house, swatting at moths or gnats like King Kong lunging for a plane.

So the Chapel Hill artist’s mind began to turn, and he wondered how the world would look from the bugs’ perspective.

“If I were a centimeter tall,” he wondered, “and this giant apex predator was on my tail, what could that look like?”

Thus “Magnus Cattus” took shape.

And the result, a collection of digital collages featuring leviathan-sized cats, shows at Cary Arts Center starting Thursday, June 2.

Matt McCarthy’s “Magnus Cattus” show runs until June 28 at Cary Arts Center

“Matt’s BIG cats are engaging, fun and really capture the personalities of cats,” said Denise Dickens, Cary’s public art supervisor and curator of exhibitions. “A big smile comes across the viewer’s face and recognition of knowing, yes, that’s a cat doing its thing.”

“Magnus Cattus,” or “Big Cat” in Latin, represents the largest gallery show to date for the self-taught digital artist, who studied architecture and worked in New York independent book stores before diving into the possibilities of Photoshop.

Matt & Atticus.jpg
Matt McCarthy takes most of the images for his “Magnus Cattus” work from cat photos he finds online, but his own feline Atticus provides inspiration. Courtesy of Matt McCarthy

Though they served as muses, McCarthy’s own cats rarely appear in his prints. Rather, the images are culled from public domain websites: the San Francisco skyline combined with a reclining tabby, the Obelisco de Buenos Aires paired with a playful kitten.

“I like the anonymousness of them,” he said. “With my cats, I know their personalities so well. I like a blank canvas.”

Cats stretch across ocean shorelines, surrounded by lilliputian beachcombers. They stroll between skyscrapers, tails threatening.

“There’s not necessarily a menace to it,” said McCarthy, 41, though one of his art-cats is shown knocking down the Washington Monument like a wine glass on a kitchen counter. “It turned into resonating with their personalities, exploring the things I think are funny.”

“Buenos Aires” from Matt McCarthy’s “Magnus Cattus” collection of digital art prints. Courtesy of Matt McCarthy

The result is a recipe for viral photos: McCarthy’s Instagram has 80,000-plus followers, and his work garners plentiful eyeballs on Bored Panda.

Imagine if William Wegman and his famous Weimaraners had access to design software in their heyday, and if he’d used inherently mischievous animals as subject matter.

The result sits curled inside the Cary Arts Center until June 28, waiting to pounce.

Meet and greet

Matt McCarthy will hold an artist meet-and-greet event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Cary Arts Center, which is at 101 Dry Ave.

This story is part of our regular “On the Bright Side” feature. Got a suggestion for a story that will bring a smile to our readers? E-mail Josh Shaffer at [email protected]

Matt McCarthy’s “Magnus Cattus” show comes to Cary Arts Center starting Thursday, June 2, featuring outsized felines in outrageous composite poses. Courtesy of Matt McCarthy

This story was originally published June 2, 2022 12:15 PM.

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Josh Shaffer is a general assignment reporter on the watch for “talkers,” which are stories you might discuss around a water cooler. He has worked for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.