Caroline Wong’s drawings of women eating like cats challenge expectations of “restraint and decorum”
Hectic and joyous, Cats and Girls will leave you craving a feast with your nearest and dearest.
- Olivia Hingley
- 29 March 2023
Full of colour, energy and joyful depictions of friendships and food, Caroline Wong’s Cats and Girls series is a pleasure to behold. A deeply layered project, the pastel drawings explore limiting expectations of gender and historical ties between the feline and the feminine, all while celebrating a less refined and more free flowing way of creating.
The series began in 2021, when Caroline was studying for her masters at City and Guilds Art School in London, and it’s primarily influenced by the genre of Meiren Hua in Chinese art. With Meiren Hua translating to ‘images of beautiful women’, Caroline explains that she was “interested in this relationship between beauty and femininity, what constitutes beauty, and wider discussions about beauty in art in general.”
Looking into past portrayals and expectations of femininity – many of which still rear their head today – Caroline was intent on subverting such ideals of “restraint and decorum”. In traditional Meiren Hua paintings, women were often meticulously presented with neat outlines. Whereas in Caroline’s paintings, “the ‘beautiful women’ I present are amoral, untameable and purely focused on their own pleasure, just like cats,” she says. “Immersed in their indulgent frenzy, they leave spillages, piles of food and debris in their wake, abandoning all rules of respectability and etiquette.”
At its core, Caroline’s series is also one that speaks to a “return” to girlhood, hence the title’s referral to ‘girls’. One drawing that represents this is return is Birthday party (After Foujita), a drawing inspired by a painting from the Japanese-French artist Foujita entitled La fête d’anniversaire. It was upon seeing Foujita’s hectic scene – anthropomorphised animals gathered round a dinner table filled with fish and meat – that Caroline was reminded of the many birthday parties she attended as a child, “the same excitement, but mainly over fizzy drinks, crisps, sweets, ice cream, jelly and all kinds of colourful, processed food,” Caroline recalls. Paying homage to such events and the cravings she still experiences, Caroline creates a scene in which her friends in their 20s and 30s regress to an “animal/child” version of themselves and indulge in child-like treats. “It’s mad, chaotic, angry, hysterical,” Caroline says. “It sort of reminds me of being on a merry-go-round, the excitement and nausea of it all.”
This focus on frenzy is mirrored in Carolines “sensual, messy and immediate” style. Caroline explains that while the oil painting works she originally created during her undergraduate studies were more “classical in style”, by the course’s culmination, Caroline had started getting a bit more DIY. “Towards the end of the course I did a large scroll painting on paper of a group of drunk friends, which was painted in a looser, more sloppy ‘debauched’ way, and which I felt was more successful in its synthesis of Western and Eastern influences,” Caroline shares. The use of elongated paper directly referencing scroll paintings of cats playing dating back to the Song or Tang Dynasty, Caroline expands. Moreover, in line with the project being a “return to girlhood”, Caroline says that she wanted to “use the humble materials and mediums of youth”. She continues: “the throwaway, nostalgic qualities of paper allows me to draw freely, without the pressure of having to ‘get it right’, a pressure I often feel when working on an expensive canvas”.
One drawing Caroline deems most reflective of her Asian heritage and culture is New Years Eve, a scene depicting a New Year’s she spent with friends in China. “This is probably the most Asian of the drawings, firstly because of the food they’re eating, but also the artistic references,” Caroline says. “The palette for example is inspired by famille jaune porcelain; the magpies and bamboo to the left are taken from a well-known 18th Century Meiren Hua called ‘Leaning on a Couch watching Magpies’.” The painting plays on the symbol in the painting of a romantic symbol of reunion, and the Western superstition of two magpies bringing joy and luck.
Imbued with references to culinary culture, art history and companionship, Caroline Wong’s Cats and Girls may leave you feeling peckish, but it will certainly leave your heart feeling full.
GalleryCaroline Wong: Cats and Girls (Copyright © Caroline Wong & Soy Capitàn, 2023)
Caroline Wong: Cats and Girls (Copyright © Caroline Wong & Soy Capitàn, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.