Cats in Contemporary Art – A Chat with Artist Endre Penovác
The Hungarian artist based in Serbia, Endre Penovác, is arguably the most masterful painter of cats of our time. In recent years, cats have become a major focus within his body of work, and it’s easy to see why. His bold, sweeping strokes of ink and watercolour over wet paper capture the essence of feline fluidity and elegance. With easy grace bordering on abstraction, his paintings depict the duality of willowy softness with the sharp points of ears and eyes and whiskers; and fix to paper the fleeting moments of daily life.
As an amateur artist and an experienced lover of cats, I was thrilled when Endre kindly agreed to an interview (there was an actual happy dance). I hope that you enjoy it too!
Caity Venniker (CV): You once suggested to Planet Paris Montmartre magazine the idea that behind every great artist is a cat - scratching his claws on their favourite chair; walking daintily over a freshly painted picture; and asking plaintively for cat food as soon as the paintbrush is picked up! Please tell us about the cat that sits in your studio and is the inspiration for your beautiful black cats.
Endre Penovác (EP): The black cat came into my life accidentally. The children brought home a small, grey, short-haired kitten, and over the years it grew into a big, black, long-haired cat. At first, I didn’t bother much with the cat, and I didn’t paint much watercolour either. I preferred to draw our Puli dogs with soft graphite which captured the texture of their coats very well.
Meanwhile our black cat grew and became more and more beautiful. At the same time, I became more and more interested in watercolour. I tried to paint the dogs with watercolour but the result was not what I wanted. It was then that I really saw Bossi (Bossi is a nickname of the Hungarian word for “witch”), in the first watercolour I painted of her. And then I felt it was real. The cat’s soft fur, the graceful movements, and the flow of ink complement each other – you could say they are made for each other. It opened up a new world for me.
CV: What inspires you?
EP: I am inspired by seeing a subject where the elements of the image express something; and convey a mood.
CV: What was the last book you read?
EP: Genki Kawamura’s “If Cats Disappear From The World”. I’d like to put a smiley here because it probably seems as if I only read about cats but actually it’s just a coincidence!
CV: What do you like to do in your spare time?
EP: In my free time I like to garden and tend to my roses.
CV: Do you ever paint commissions, or do you prefer freedom in your subject matter?
EP: Freedom is the essence of art, one of the cornerstones. I like to have freedom, but there are of course exceptions and compromises, as there are in other areas of life. I have already painted several pictures to order - the ginger and the first calico were made that way. Often something good can come out of a state of urgency.
CV: Most things that are made to look easy, have a lot of hard work and discipline behind them. Do you think that this is true of you and your paintings that seem so effortless?
EP: This is absolutely true. The time and effort put in before a painting is even started is what counts. I put in hard work for decades, but the “final product,” the painting itself, takes only minutes – there are times when it only takes seconds. The viewer is only interested in the experience provided by the image, and this is what matters; not the winding and bumpy road leading there. My satisfaction with a particular image is not a function of the time spent, or its value.
CV: In your opinion, which is the best cat painting that you have done?
EP: I can’t say which one I think is best. It feels ungrateful to differentiate between “our kids,” but this is one that I can highlight:
CV: At one stage you were interested in depicting your Puli dogs with graphite. Would you say you are a dog or a cat person?
EP: There is this division between people. I used to be a dog person, but now I can see how much poorer I would have been if I had never had a cat. You need both to experience completeness, as they have such different characters.
CV: Thank you so much for your time! If you ever visit the UK please let us know and we will be sure to send you some Nibbles for Bossi!
We are so excited to be giving away the "Hungry Cat" print in our Instagram competition. To find out how to enter, head over to our Instagram!
If you’d like to see more of Endre’s amazing work, check out his Instagram account – we are big fans!