Not on display
- Gillian Carnegie born 1971
- Oil paint on canvas
- Support: 359 × 305 mm
- Presented by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen 2022
White on White 2007 is a just off-square oil painting on canvas. Painted in heavy impasto in monochrome white, as the title suggests, it depicts the base of the trunk of a large tree vertically occupying the centre of the canvas and isolated from a wooded area set on a high horizon line. White on White exemplifies the way in which Carnegie plays on the tension between subject and medium in her painting. She takes this interplay to the extreme in her monochrome paintings, such as this one and also the slightly later Black Square 2008 (Tate T12935), a painting in which the black paint is applied so thickly as to make it seem almost constructed in relief. Black Square is the last of a series of monochrome representations of a clump of trees in which Carnegie joined traditions of landscape painting with the idealistic and utopian strategies of early modernist abstraction. It refers directly to Kazimir Malevich’s (1879–1935) painting Black Square 1915 (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), while White on White takes its title from his Suprematist Composition, White on White 1918 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). However, rather than create a monochrome that heralds ‘a world without objects’ – the non-objective abstraction of Malevich’s suprematism, Carnegie inverts the concept by planting a conventional landscape at its heart.
Though seeming to conform to the traditional categories of painting – be it still life, landscape, figure painting or portraiture – Carnegie adopts a carefully considered, conceptual approach throughout her practice so as, in fact, to subvert the conventions of academic figurative painting. Frequently using a palette of muted, earthy tones (see, for example, Voi 2004 [Tate T15983] or Thirteen 2006 [Tate T12486]), she generally avoids motifs which explicitly convey narrative. As curator Clarrie Wallis has explained: ‘Carnegie’s paintings refuse meaning: the muted nature of her work has been remarked upon but, more importantly, the paintings themselves are mute. Carnegie enacts this refusal of meaning by highlighting the artificiality of representation, by denying narrative content and continually reminding the viewer that they are looking at an image constructed through paint.’ (In Tate Britain 2013, p.28.) This resistance to definitive interpretation necessitates a mercurial approach to her work and it is this rejection of a signature style which allows Carnegie to explore the act of painting, the physicality of paint itself and the subjects and meanings which her particular method of painting communicates.
Lisa Panting, ‘Profile: Gillian Carnegie’, Art Monthly, no.250, October 2001, pp.20–1.
Polly Staple, ‘The Finishing Touch’, frieze, no.64, January–February 2002, pp.72–5.
Lizzie Carey-Thomas, ‘Gillian Carnegie’, Turner Prize 2005, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2005.
Clarrie Wallis, ‘Gillian Carnegie’, Painting Now, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2013.
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