Felix the Cat

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    Photo: Ron Lee/The Silver Factory
c. 1987
Found wood and paint
26.5 x 13.5 x 9 inches

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Black Felix the Cat, troublemaking feline of comics and animated cartoons, was overtured by a theme song whose refrain reiterated that "whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag o

Black Felix the Cat, troublemaking feline of comics and animated cartoons, was overtured by a theme song whose refrain reiterated that "whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks!" ("Black cat bone" is probably the best-known ingredient of mojos, and the black cat in many cultures is considered a sign of bad luck.) This cat tells of narrow escapes, of always almost being found out; his body is charred (but not incinerated) wood. The cartoon animal-pet becomes trickster, whose magical powers hide among his fictive selves, his "dangerous" blackness and half-burned body. Although Felix the Cat amply illustrates the cross-pollination in the black South of traditional oral folktales and mass American cultural idioms, it more specifically reveals Griffin's identification with the impish freedom permitted these household pets and cartooned beings.

Felix the Cat grows indirectly as well from the strange but pervasive dynamic of the minstrel tradition, in which white caricatures about black culture were incorporated into traveling shows that entered into and altered black consciousness. Yet the indurate "studied ambiguity" of artists such as Griffin stringently regulates this process, rerouting these energies in strategically unexpected ways.