Local Artist Spurs Campus Cat Hunt

Courtesy of Liv Wang, Photo Club Emory

If you weren’t lucky enough to find a Dooley Cat hidden on campus during this year’s Dooley’s Week, don’t lose hope: the mastermind behind the eccentric felines plans to continue to drop his pieces around Atlanta.

Emory University and Photo Club Emory partnered with local street artist Rory Hawkins, more commonly known as Catlanta, to bring the Dooley Cat search back to campus last week. A total of 25 Dooley-inspired cat creations were hidden around the University, only to be discovered within minutes by students eager to claim these prized works of art.

Kevin Lu (18C), who had first heard of Catlanta’s artwork during the first Dooley cat search in 2015, said he was ecstatic to have found a Dooley Cat this year. After recognizing its location from a picture posted on social media, Lu immediately embarked on foot in pursuit of the cat, a fervor that is shared among Catlanta fans alike.

“I found it at Emory Village on top of the Emory sign,” Lu said in a April 16 email. “I ran from Harris Hall to the village the second I realized where it was. The … cat is very well made [and] it’s the perfect size.”

Courtesy of Liv Wang, Photo Club Emory

Although the University has already given away all the pieces through social media contests, the fervent hunt for these cats isn’t over. Hawkins has built a steady reputation by placing his hand-painted cats across Atlanta for his 13,900 Instagram followers to find, and doesn’t plan to end this fierce competition any time soon.

What started as a mindless cat doodle developed into a trademark that has garnered sizable attention and praise from the Atlanta community.

Hawkins said that his appreciation for the city fuels his daily grind.

“The whole thing is for Atlanta and about Atlanta,” Hawkins said. “It’s sort of like my physical representation of my love for the city.”

Catlanta debuted in Atlanta in 2011. Hawkins created his first litter of kittens from gold magnets thrown away at the mall where he worked. The artist then hid them around the city in an effort to make his cat artwork more accessible to the public. Regardless of location, Hawkin’s cats were snatched up almost instantly, with some of his followers conducting extensive searches that lasted hours — a response Hawkins said he did not expect. People’s eagerness to discover his work made Hawkins realize Catlanta’s potential to gain immense popularity in Atlanta’s art scene. Witnessing the joy and excitement his work brings to Atlanta residents keeps Hawkins going, he said.

Courtesy of Wes Cummings

The intricate detail and careful craftsmanship of Hawkins’ cats are impressive. In a mostly solo operation, Hawkins conducts his entire creative process in the comfort of his own home.

To create a cat, Hawkins first makes a sketch of the cat design and then screen prints it onto a piece of wood. After using a saw to cut out the cat shape, Hawkins sands, paints and coats the figure. The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, according to Hawkins.

“[Because] I usually paint small, [my workspace is] typically like a desk and then I have a basement space that has my saw and everything,” Hawkins said. “Some days I’ll work outside if it’s nice, or set up an easel if it’s a bigger piece.”

Hawkins admitted that he can often become too immersed into his work.

“I typically work most of the day,” he said. “I try and split up doing a few projects at a time … because otherwise I’ll pretty much stay locked in painting all day.”

Courtesy of Megan Dahl

Although Catlanta occupies most of his time, Hawkins also does chalk painting, signs and portraits. Assisted by film and video producer Megan “Sissy” Dahl, he completed a mural in Chattanooga, Tenn., in April for street art awareness project Burning Bridges.

Hawkins said he views street art as more than a creative outlet. To him, street art adds character to communities and makes art more accessible.

“It’s like a changing of traditions and customs in the way that people discover your work,” Hawkins said. “It gives artists more control because you don’t have to rely on getting into a gallery in order for … people to see your work.”

Hawkins’ advice to upcoming artists is simple: practice.

“I never really thought about [art] like you would sports or music, where … you practice all the time,” Hawkins said. “But after painting cat after cat after cat … [I] look back, and things have changed so much.”

In the future, Hawkins hopes to expand his online presence by creating an online portfolio. He also mentioned the possibility of hosting an exhibition. But more than anything, he plans to stick to his roots. The cats, he said, are here to stay.