World of Cats1966 by Kenneth Halliwell

A handmade collage that sat in the home of artist Kenneth Halliwell and his partner Joe Orton has gone on show in Islington half a century after their tragic deaths.

The 5½ ft screen, decorated with newspaper clippings and pictures of cats, was created by Halliwell at their home in Noel Road, near Angel, shortly before he murdered the playwright and committed suicide in 1967.

Orton, whose work included Loot and Entertaining Mr Sloane, was in talks to write a screenplay for The Beatles when he was killed by Halliwell, who was said to be jealous of his success and promiscuous behavior.

The work went on show in public for the first time last night after it was bought at auction by the council for £8,000 with money from the Art Fund and a group of anonymous donors.

The five-and-a-half-foot, 4-panel screen is decorated with a collage of cats and is known simply as World of Cats. It was created in 1966 by Halliwell, who lived with Orton in Noel Road, Islington, between 1959 and 1967.

It was during this time that Halliwell and Orton notoriously defaced books from Islington libraries, and then returned them after pasting in pictures of male nudes, toys, and birds, along with salaciously re-written copy. They were eventually caught and imprisoned for 6 months for theft and ‘malicious damage’. It is thought their sentence was in part so harsh because of their homosexual relationship, which was illegal at the time. The defaced book jackets are now seen as subversive art in their own right and are permanently kept at Islington Museum.

Following the deaths of Orton and Halliwell in 1967, the screen was acquired by Peggy Ramsay, Orton’s literary agent, whose estate donated it to a charity auction in 1999 where it was purchased by a private collector. Last year the one-off piece was bought by the council at a public sale, with our assistance and an anonymous donation, for £8,000.
Click to select the cover image for this artwork.