When surrealist artist Richard Saunders took a photograph of some abstract topiary at Hall Barn in Beaconsfield, he had no idea of the viral sensation he would create.
But five years later and Mr Saunders has immortalised his beloved pet cat Tolly in a series of magical images which have achieved widespread fame on the internet.
Dubbed The Topiary Cat, it all came about when Mr Saunders snapped cloud-style topiary at the historic Bucks country house which he said ‘suggested a sleeping animal by the lake’.
Marrying that image together with one he took of Tolly, he created a magical work of art that soon became a hit on the web, but unattributed and with his name cropped out some people took to be real.
The original montaged image is not the only one to have been a viral hit as some subsequent works have had well over three million hits.
Each photo marries an image of Tolly, a Russian Blue cat, with existing scenery which is then edited to look like giant cat-style topiary, although with a surrealist bent.
Tolly has now sadly died but as each image of the Topiary Cat is inspired by him and because of the hundreds of photos Mr Saunders took of him, Tolly is sure to live on.
Mr Saunders said: “I will only do topiary variations of Tolly, as it my tribute to his memory, despite many people asking me to do versions of their own pets.”
Each image is created on Photoshop, and can take anything from one day to three days, depending on ‘complexity’, according to Mr Saunders.
“I have been somewhat bemused by the success of the images,” he said. “I did it for fun, not for commercial gain and was fascinated to see its metamorphosis from a simple idea to an Internet phenomenon.”
A surrealist painter since he was a teenager, Mr Saunders was first influenced by Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and also by Arthur Rackham, a children’s book illustrator.
Married with two daughters, Mr Saunders, who lives in Stapleford, a village just outside Hertford, said he ‘painted too slowly to make a living at that’ so ventured into advertising eventually becoming joint owner and creative director of an advertising agency.
The Topiary Cat can be found at www.thetopiarycat.co.uk or on Facebook - search for The Topiary Cat.