Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Painter Captures the World's Vanishing Cats

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Painter Captures the World's Vanishing Cats

Article excerpt

GREAT CATS: STORIES AND ART FROM A WORLD TRAVELLER

By Simon Combes

The Greenwich Workshop Press 168 pp., $35 After searching in vain for the elusive tigers that prowl through the thick, snow-clad forests of Siberia, Simon Combes realized that his dream to paint the world's great exotic cats would not be as easy as he hoped. An English-born Kenyan acclaimed for his finely detailed paintings of African wildlife, Mr. Combes was traveling to the earth's remote corners to find the ferocious cats that had long fascinated him. "I wanted to do it because I loved cats and I was intrigued by the non-African cats," Combes says in his gentle English accent, during a visit to Boston. "But the more I got into it, at the early stages of research, I began to realize how incredibly endangered most of these cats are. Then, it became a bit of a crusade." His travels resulted in a new book, "Great Cats: Stories and Art From a World Traveller," replete with exquisite portraits of his rare subjects - from a cougar softly padding through the wintery wilderness of Idaho to a Bengal tiger lurking in a bamboo jungle in India. The paintings are accompanied by Combes's engaging, sometimes comical insights on the local color and inhabitants of the places he visited. Combes also shows the cats' dramatic decline due to human encroachment. Scientists told him that poaching had decimated the number of Siberian tigers to between 200 and 300 in the wild. A gene pool of 500 animals is considered necessary to sustain the species. "Here is the world's largest cat ... and it's just teetering on the brink of extinction," Combes says indignantly. "It makes you almost embarrassed to be a human being." When he was forced to abandon the search for a cat, he resorted to captive animals instead. In his book, he describes the challenge of turning a somnambulant creature into a wild, unfettered animal on canvas. A bemused look steals over Combes's good-natured face when he's asked about the unexpected turn of events that led to his career. "I never really had a plan for my life." Growing up on his family's ranch in British-controlled Kenya, the young boy thought he would become a farmer and delighted in hunting the wild cats that roamed the desert plains. …

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