GIllian Carnegie is one of five artists currently on display in Tate Britain's contemporary painting show Painting Now. Curator Clarrie Wallis introduces a recurring motif in the artist's work: a black cat

Gillian Carnegie Prince 2011 Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne © Gillian Carngie
Gillian Carnegie
Prince 2011
oil on canvas
140 × 101.5
Galerie Gisela Capitain,

Gillian Carnegie exploits the conventions and genres of academic figurative painting. Working within the traditional categories of landscape, still-life interior and the nude Carnegie investigates the materiality of painting and questions habitual responses to established subject matter. Her highly distinctive paintings mediate her relationship to the world through a controlled sense of realism, grounded in concerns around the act of painting and the physicality of paint itself. In each work, Carnegie seeks to create an atmosphere that will draw the viewer into an intense and beguiling perceptual experience. 

Prince 2011 is one of a number of paintings which explore the motif of a black cat: the picture is divided into two, the bottom half is very dark, almost black, while the top half is white. The close-up figure of the cat is placed at the centre of the canvas, its lower half being difficult to make out clearly. The head of the cat, however, is silhouetted against the white wall playing on the sense of contrast that already divides the painting. The lower half of the cat looks flat while the head is more suggestive of three-dimensions. It is as if the cat emerges from a two-dimensional darkness to take shape as the perceptual illusion of three-dimensions is created before our eyes. In Prince 2010 the cat is sitting on a landing and is a much smaller figure, almost lost in the gloomy shadows. There is a haunting quality to the painting; a landing is a place of transition, a pause on a journey elsewhere.

This is an extract from the exhibition catalogue ‘Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists’, available to purchase from the Tate Online Shop

Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists is on display at Tate Britain from 12 November to 9 February 2014