This past November, I was asked to spend 17 days with Mao, a cat. Mao’s real name is 小猫咪 Xiao Maomi. She was born in China 176 years ago, and ended up adopting a human named Valerie. Mao traveled to Turkey to visit Valeries’s Mom, which is where she learned how to speak Turkish as well as how she immersed herself in the culture, eating Turkish delights and Fancy Feasts. She then traveled to Antwerp and learned French and Flemish. There, she also visited my favorite Memling and Van Dyck paintings. Mao came to New York City a few years ago along with Valerie to work in the traditional linen production business. She then decided to move to New Jersey to become a caregiver. She now takes care of Valerie and her husband G.

Mao and I wanted to have fun, but my own cat, Kicia, wouldn’t let us. Seemingly possessed, or at least the noises they made were reminiscent of The Exorcist, they were in a constant hissing duel. We had no choice but to escape to the attic. There, finally at peace, we read children’s stories, but mostly Silvestien’s The Lights in the Attic. We made some art on my old canvases and played hide and seek behind my large, coffin-like suitcases. We loved dressing up in old clothes and decorating ourselves with Christmas ornaments. During Kicia’s nightly outside prowl, we would leave the attic to perform Seventeen Moments of Spring.

Mao, a worldy and linguistically talented cat, played Max Otto von Stirlitz, a famous spy. And I played the American CIA agent, Allen Dulles. None of us waned to play the SS soldier, Obergrouppenfuhre Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff, so we made Kicia the Nazi when she came home.

Seventeen Moments of Spring is a 1973 Soviet twelve-part television series, considered the most successful Soviet espionage thriller ever made, and is one of the most popular television series in Soviet history.

I loved having Mao in my home for those 17 Moments and I missed her so very much when she left me. “Stiiirrrlllitz!” I cried through the window. “Alllleeeennn!” she responded, and both of our whiskers quaked.

I’ve made these 17 paintings for and about Mao. Aside from two oil paintings, all are done on Yupo paper with Japanese and Alcohol Inks.