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Big cats on the prowl

By Patricia Boyd Wilson / February 26, 1988



Have you noticed that people who like cats like them very much? Dahlov Ipcar, who made this picture, owns some beautiful domestic cats, and she has made many portraits of her pets; but you can see here that she is just as fascinated by the largest members of the cat family. Tigers, for instance, are the very biggest cats, sometimes 14 feet long, and at the shoulders 5 feet tall, and can weigh as much as 500 pounds. And leopards, though smaller, can grow to more than 7 feet long. Ipcar has invented a make-believe picture of them and has made them more equal in size so that her design will balance.

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If you look carefully you find that she knows a great deal about these big animals. She tells us that these are young frolicking cubs. Notice they aren't showing any claws, and their faces are pleasant and happy. She has shaded their bodies to make them look round and heavy, as you know they really are, and carefully made the patterns of their coats. The leopard's black rosette spots are dark golden yellow in the center, darker than the rest of his fur. That's true of real leopards. The tiger's stripes are also shaded from dark to light, just as on a live tiger. Now, when you repeat a pattern many times it helps to make people aware of it; so as you examine this picture you find many circles repeated over and over. They are on the leopard's back and its tail, and even in the shape of its ears and paws and at the end of its long, long tail.

Sometimes artists exaggerate part of a subject to make you aware of it, or to improve the design. Here Ipcar both exaggerates the tails and curls their ends in perfect circles. This helps to make them balance. In fact, the whole picture is so balanced that you can hang it sideways or upside down and it still looks good.

You can be sure that making this painting gave much pleasure to the artist, who is so clever with her arrangements. Even though the canvas is full, it doesn't seem cluttered or over-busy. Simply stated, it comes from the heart, telling you by its happy atmosphere that it is an expression of her love for all living things.

Ipcar's father was William Zorach, one of America's greatest sculptors, and her mother, Marguerite, was also an artist. So you see Ipcar grew up seeing a great deal of art and loving it. But it is her own boundless imagination that gives her work a bright, fairy-tale quality.

You might like to imagine a picture in this way, and with your own designs use patterns that please you to make it balance so that it, too, could hang right side up or upside down.