City Kitty: The Man Behind the Three-Eyed Cat

Written by Michael Lodato

This three-eyed stray has cropped up everywhere—you can spot him in Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, and London. But he comes from Brooklyn. “When I started this, It was kind of like an homage to my mom and to Bushwick,” said City Kitty, the artist behind the cat. City Kitty grew up with “a crazy cat mom” (his words). Plus, when he first moved to Bushwick, his neighbors were clans of feral cats who lived by the sewing factory. As a street artist, he knew that he needed a moniker, and a cat was a natural choice.

Art by CityKitty

In 2010, City Kitty began working with the street art heavy Fountain Art Fair. Though he wrote graffiti as a teenager, he opted at first for safer ways to show off his art. He made posters for his band as well as national touring bands. However, he soon realized that hanging posters in New York was just as illegal. He was drawn to the “no rules” environment of street art, but he was also a graduate art student at the time. Eventually, he concluded “I can do both,” he said, “I was trying to balance between both worlds.”

“A narrative allows the viewer to write their own story from the image they see,” he said, “It’s almost like [the artwork] is living its life there.”

City Kitty’s signature character grew out of his artwork for band posters. “I was friends with Kenny Sharf’s studio assistant at the time, and I wanted to learn how to silkscreen,” he said, “We wound up burning my first silkscreen in Kenny Scharf’s studio.” Originally, the cat was “part of a gang,” he said, “The cat had a big gold chain and a banner underneath that said ‘City Kitty.’” He gave some thought to the cat’s habitat—living in Bushwick, the cat would probably speak Spanish, he figured. His second silkscreen featured the words “Gato de la Ciudad.” Later, the cat gained a third eye. City Kitty, a Reiki practitioner, incorporated three eyes into his other characters as well, giving his artwork a trippy look. City Kitty notes, “Tons of people have done three eyes,” including Kenny Scharf. “I didn’t really think about it,” he said.

Art by City Kitty x D7606

City Kitty describes his approach to street art as “fluid response.” Rather than planning his artwork in a sketchbook, he prefers to react in the moment. City Kitty quickly moved away from silk screening and began drawing by hand, which fit better with his improvisational style. In graduate school, City Kitty recalls “smashing pieces of wood and building them back together,” then asking “What would live on this weird shape?” As a musician, he explained, you need to be comfortable thinking that way in order to collaborate. For him, the same applies to street art collaboration. “The dialogue between the two is the important part,” he said.

He gave some thought to the cat’s habitat—living in Bushwick, the cat would probably speak Spanish, he figured. His second silkscreen featured the words “Gato de la Ciudad.” 

City Kitty’s passion for artistic dialogue has taken multiple forms throughout his career. He launched his podcast, Scratching the Surface with City Kitty, in March 2021. He says that his podcast is a way of capturing the thrill of artist talks and studio visits that he enjoyed in graduate school. Scratching the Surface has featured interviews with street artists like Fire Flower (most recently) and others such as Chris RWK and BK Foxx. Scratching the Surface also features topic-based episodes. In a 2021 episode, City Kitty and street artist Lunge Box analyze Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, and in another, they unpack the significance of placement in graffiti.

Art by CityKitty x ChrisRWK

Plus, Scratching the Surface allows City Kitty to tap into his academic side. In 2023, he interviewed his former professor Maureen Brilla Fitzpatrick, who taught at Nazareth College. The two discussed the concept of narrative in fine art. For Fitzpatrick, “Fine art has a narrative,” she says in her interview, “It’s something that needs to be searched for by the viewer” rather than “crammed down your throat” by the artist. In this episode, City Kitty explains that narrative gives art its capacity to be interpreted differently by multiple viewers. “A narrative allows the viewer to write their own story from the image they see,” he said, “It’s almost like [the artwork] is living its life there.” His conversation with Fitzpatrick is a prime example of how street art has become an object of academic inquiry.

According to City Kitty, Scratching the Surface serves as a method of preserving street art, a way to address its notorious ephemerality. City Kitty explains that he is motivated by highlighting an underrepresented artistic community and aims to record “a little bit of the history behind it before it disappears.”

Scratching the Surface Podcast, Hosted by CityKitty

But appreciating street art also means celebrating its ephemerality. For example, for City Kitty’s MTA series, the ephemerality is part of the effect. Over four years, City Kitty modified the notices about planned service changes hanging in the subway. However long it lasts, it serves as a moment for New Yorkers to vent as they roll their eyes at the MTA’s incomprehensible instructions. “The MTA may tear it down. It may last an hour,” he said.

“I’ve been chased by MTA workers,” he said, “But most people on the platforms don’t pay attention at all. I’m down here stealing subway posters and no one cares.”

If you ever see someone defacing a maintenance notice, they are most likely angrily writing an expletive. City Kitty thought he could top that. “I started taking them on the way to work,” he said, “Then I would draw them on my lunch break and put them up on my way home.” The move is sometimes surprisingly easy to pull off. “I’ve been chased by MTA workers,” he said, “But most people on the platforms don’t pay attention at all. I’m down here stealing subway posters and no one cares.” “I never signed them,” he said, “It was just really just a dialogue between me and other New Yorkers understanding this frustration.” MTA posters give City Kitty the chance to throw his characters into a scenario, and the three eyes work as a way to fit a 2-panel comic into one image.

Occasionally he would hear from a fan who took one of his posters home. Someone once suggested that City Kitty do every single one of them. City Kitty hinted that he would. “I wound up doing 380 of them,” he said, “It was a fun project that I feel is uniquely me.” It’s also unique to NYC. “I feel horrible for tourists,” he said, “They make no sense to me, and I know this place the back of my hand. ‘Go four stations up and take the N?’ What the hell does that mean?” “I’ve tagged the MTA on Instagram,” he added, “I’ve taken the subway in Toronto, Philly, Boston, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, and London. I’ve only seen these things in New York. Some other train stations, they don’t even tell you. I guess at least New York tries to tell you.”

Art by CityKitty

When I spoke to City Kitty, he was taking a break from painting a mural in his home. In our conversation, he pondered about how to raise a kid who likes art and talked about rebuilding a house up in Rochester with his wife, who is a sculptor. “That’s the thing about being a homeowner,” he said, “There’s no rules. So today I’m just going to paint a mural in my house. Why not?”

Michael is a Brooklyn-based writer, independent tutor, and former philosophy instructor. His comedy has appeared in McSweeney’sThe American Bystander, and Current Affairs. He is passionate about using humor to teach big ideas and has contributed script writing to educational YouTube channels like Crash Course and Wisecrack. He is perhaps best known for the time he accidentally offered an edible to a former Bush administration official, who politely declined.

Instagram: @magnesiummike

Website: mikelodato.com