In a time when we are increasingly overwhelmed by images at every turn, it’s rare for one of them to captivate us quite so much. And yet, here we are, with the internet’s latest viral image: Topiary Cat.
That’s right, photographs of bushes pruned into the shape of cats have been circulating the internet – and it’s all down to a man called Richard Saunders, and a misunderstanding.
Saunders, 69, a surrealist artist basted in Hertfordshire, was inspired by a visit to Hall Barn in Beaconsfield where he saw a topiary hedge shaped like a cloud, that brought to mind the form of his Russian Blue cat, Tolly, while sleeping.
When he returned from his visit, Saunders took to Photoshop to manipulate the cloud hedge into the form of Tolly. Not long after, the Amazing Places Facebook page presented the image as if it were a real topiary cat. The image garnered 30,000 likes.
“This montaged image became spread on the internet, unattributed and with my name cropped out, claimed as a real 'amazing' place. Subsequent images have gone even more viral, one having had well over three million hits.
“It seems that people want to believe that the cats are real,” Saunders tells indy100.
The artist had been painting surrealist images for years, inspired by Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Arthur Rackham, before he started on Photoshop.
Saunders continues to create what he calls “surrealist photographic montages,” in which he changes real-life bushes into ones that look like perfectly manicured versions of Tolly. The artist uses Photoshop to match the light sources between real landscapes and existing photographs he has of his beloved Tolly.
Some of these images appear as if feline-shaped bushes are standing erect on stately home promenades, reclining by the sea or even leaning over to drink from lakes.
The image of a cat drinking from the lake at Painshill, Surrey, was seen by 3.5m people on Facebook.
“I'm fascinated by how things go viral - I never planned to make any money out of the project. It's just a bit of fun,” Saunders tells the BBC.
The images have proven hugely popular- no doubt because of their life-like appearance, and have been shared all over social media.
Saunders says that people are often disappointed to learn that the images aren’t real, but that “I’d rather be known for my art than my deception.”
Sadly, the real Tolly died, aged 12 in February this year, but Saunders took so many photographs of the Russian Blue – whom he describes as “quite a character”- that he continues to inspire his work.
Saunders himself is a keen gardener – so we can only hope that one day he brings his images – and bush Tolly - to life.
Images: Richard Saunders.
You can see more images of the Topiary Cat on Saunder's dedicated website.