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Artist’s Mews: Painter Michael Leu

By: Cal Orey

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Meet an eclectic San Francisco Bay Area artist who is influenced by his four-legged companions. This feline-loving man shares how his own cats have served as a muse for art appearing nationally and even worldwide.

At age 7, Michael Leu won first place in an international children's painting contest in Tokyo, Japan. Part of his outlook as a child endures in his landscapes, abstracts and cat-related paintings today.

Leu tells the story of his past orange cat Niau-Ownn (Japanese for "king of the cats"), resting comfortably on a neighbor's roof one summer night in the late 1960s. At the time, Leu lived near the Taipei, Taiwan, airport. Suddenly, a 707 airplane shot through the sky. Startled, Niau-Ownn ducked his head.

The cat's reaction surprised Leu. Why would Niau-Ownn duck? He concluded that the cat considered himself big -- even as big as the airplane -- so he had to duck to avoid being hit. As a result of this incident, Leu painted his cat from this perspective. Even today, Leu "thinks before he paints," often seeing the world from a cat's point of view.

At 51, this hardworking Northern California artist (a creative and imaginative Pisces born on March 16, 1950) includes the cat in his creative works, which are a colorful blend of innocence and sophistication. Woman and cat, often portrayed intentionally oversized, are two main motifs Leu paints in his Novato studio.

"I get a lot of inspiration from my cats, especially Fuzzy," says Leu. Fuzzy had (he lived 15 years) more white patches in his fur than Niau-Ownn did, explains the artist, who also owns Kenter, a 12-year-old chocolate Burmese, and August, a one-year-old black and white people-friendly cat who is a loud purring machine. This veteran cat lover candidly admits he always gets along well with cats because he simply "understands them."

In his art, Leu strives for humor -- sometimes even irony -- and used Fuzzy as inspiration. In the serigraph "NY, NY and Fuzzy," the cat sits down in Times Square. "A big, relaxed cat is in high contrast to all of the people in Manhattan. They're so busy, on-the-run. People like to be like that, but they cannot just stop and lie back like Fuzzy can," Leu comments.

This artist continues to produce insightful, fun-loving art via cat. Another past creation is "The Square," featuring both Fuzzy and Kenter in San Francisco's legendary Union Squared. Leu's reputation has spread far beyond the Bay Area, and he exhibits his paintings worldwide.
        
For more information, log onto www.Michaelleu.com or call Gallery Leu at 1 (800) 325-0233.

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