Inside the Mind of a Schizophrenic ~ Louis Wain
Updated: Apr 4, 2019
Louis Wain: The Bachelor Party
Chagrined Cat with Black Eye Out with Auntie Cat’s Nightmare
Louis Wain was a British illustrator born in 1860 in London, United Kingdom. Wain, along with members of his family, suffered from various mental illnesses. After he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, his way of painting, drawing, and sketching cats changed drastically.
Wain is well known for his illustrations of anthropomorphic cats. His works exhibited cats playing golf, smoking cigarettes, and drinking tea. These big-eyed, cute cat drawings were whimsical and humorous.
His works contradicted the social stigma circulating around cats in England at the time by characterizing them as likable, admirable, and lovable creatures.
“Intelligence in the cat is underrated” ~ Louis Wain
Wain’s obsession with cats stemmed from an emotional period of his life. During this intense time, his wife was suffering from breast cancer. She was comforted when Wain brought home a stray kitten from the streets of London. The stray kitten, Peter, was the subject of Wain’s first cat drawing, and the inspiration to his later artworks. Wain drew these cats to amuse his wife, though after his wife died from cancer, he was set off into deep depression.
The Effect of Schizophrenia
When Wain was 57, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia - a mental disorder that prompts individuals to perceive the world in a bizarre or fantastical way. Schizophrenia affects a person's behavior as well as their train of thought.
Eventually, Wain began to act aggressive, spending the last 15 years of his life in psychiatric institutions. While hospitalized, he continued to paint, draw, and sketch cats. His works changed dramatically as a result of his diagnosis, becoming less and less similar to his original style. His cats, generally playful and smiling, began to take on different traits and became more abstract, geometric, and colorful. His cats, while still mostly playful, are sometimes unsettling. Wain's later drawings heavily rely on the repetition of numerous patterns.
Kaleidoscope Cat (1930) Car Drawing Cat with Cat Necklace
A collection of Wain’s drawings that demonstrates how his work developed into a more abstract style
“I Am Happy Because Everyone Loves Me”
At first glance, one of Wain’s more modest works, "I Am Happy Because Everyone Loves Me," looks somewhat unassuming. The work is made of chalk and ink, showing a small and happy cat who stares out from the page with a jolly grin. Written underneath the drawing is: “I Am Happy Because Everyone Loves Me”. There exists an unavoidable and ironic sadness to these words. While Wain was in care, his works captured the sadness in his life and highlighted his struggle of obtaining happiness.
Louis Wain: I Am Happy Because Everyone Loves Me (1928)
The Life and Work of Louis Wain
Should his work be viewed as an artist expressing himself or should we choose to view his artwork as an expression of a mental illness? Did mental illness open him up to a world of bright colors and geometric shaped or were those things already deep inside of him? These are questions that will go unanswered. When discussing artists with a history of mental illness, people have a recurring tendency to connect creativity with mental disability and illness. According to Psychology Today, despite traditional romantic beliefs about mental illness, the suffering and disruption caused by mental illness seldom contributes directly to creative inspiration. Viewing Lewis Wain's work as just an expression of mental illness wrongly discounts from his artistry. Instead, we should use the context of Louis Wain's mental health to grow in empathy by vicariously experiencing the world of a Schizophrenic.