All Hail the Rat King


Rat King II • Gouache and pencil on Arches watercolor paper • 22.5" x 30", unframed.

The Rat King is a cryptozoological phenomenon that occurs when a group of rats become permanently bound to one another by knotted tails, excrement, and hair. The rats thus move and function as one entity. While biologists generally believe the Rat King to be little more than Germanic folklore, specimens of dead Rat Kings are housed in museums throughout northern Europe, the largest of which contains 27 rats.


Rat King II • Gouache and pencil on Arches watercolor paper • 22.5" x 30", unframed.

I find even the possibility of a Rat King's existence very disturbing. An entangled entity, thirsting for survival speaks somehow of life, but also morbidly and deeply about death. I'd imagine that as some of the rats die, the others continue along their way, eating the remains of their fallen partners, with whom they once worked together. The Rat King symbolizes Hell: tortured and bound, living but in pain and suffering.

In the life quotidian, it speaks to population density and other urban phenomenon, as the rat is ever present in cities, being particularly associated with the US mecca and benchmark, New York. Here, I can almost imagine the people becoming matted together with their- or rather, our- own mess, forcing some sort of togetherness, as we individually bulldoze our way toward sustenance, comfort, and- of course- the finer things in life.

Kristin Reger, August 2009