Happiness is ... a grinning cat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 May, 2006, 12:00am

Some call it art, some call it vandalism, but love it or hate it, the yellow cat that grins from walls, rooftops and train stations across Europe has now hit Hong Kong.

Two French artists from the graffiti collective known as CHAT (The Harmonious Community of Taciturn Artists) or Misterious (C), have come to town to give workshops on their happy feline friend.

There will also be an exhibition, Misterious (C) in Hong Kong 2006, in the foyer of the Agnes b. Cinema! in the Hong Kong Arts Centre. The show, which opens tomorrow and runs until May 28, features paintings, videos and graffiti art by CHAT.

The group's cat paintings first appeared on rooftops, bridges, train stations, and even tree trunks, in France in 1995. The toothy smile then appeared on walls in many other European cities including London, Vienna, Zurich, Amsterdam and Sarajevo.

The mischievous yellow fellow with a huge white smile and perky ears looks like a combination of Felix the Cat, the Cheshire Cat and the Catbus from Hayao Miyazaki's animation My Neighbour Totoro.

But the design actually comes from an eight-year-old Pakistani girl. The founder of Misterious (C), who remains anonymous and always wears a cat mask in public, was the little girl's teacher in France.

'I gave drawing lessons in schools in France in 1995 and she [the girl] showed me her drawing [of a cat]. It was very simple and nice. I decided I had to do it [graffiti] the same way so people could enjoy it like I did,' he said.

He and his friends began to paint the grinning face on public surfaces. Unlike most graffiti artists, they use acrylics instead of spray paints. Their favourite location is the rooftop, a site described by Misterious (C) as 'the borderline between the earth and the sky'.

People respond to the cat differently. Some say the artists should be put in jail for vandalism, while others see the animal as a guardian angel of the city.

Using public space as a personal canvas is bound to be controversial, but the female CHAT artist, who also remains hidden behind a cat mask, says art should be shared by everyone.

'In France, there are artists [who work] with the government and there are free artists who want to do something on the street, for the people. These free artists want to give their art to everybody, to schools and to children. I think this is good for the people,' she said.

The two CHAT artists will be hosting a free workshop for children aged five to 12 at the Hong Kong Gold Coast Shopping Mall on Saturday and Sunday from 3pm to 4.30pm. The artists say they hope children can find happiness in painting their own smiling yellow cat.

'Life is simple and happy,' they say. 'If you don't have happiness, you have nothing.'

Misterious (C) invites four SYP readers - two for each session - to join their workshop. E-mail your name, age and telephone number to syp@scmp.com. First come, first served.