Monday 12 February 2024

Mildred the Gallery Cat, text and illustration by Jono Gantz, review by Lynda Waterhouse

I’m a sucker for cat stories, particularly ones that contain black and white cats. Tuxedo cats have a habit of finding their way into my life. First of all there was Tim, who aged 10 came into our lives and stayed for eleven years. We now have Mimi who moved in with us when her owner went into a care home.

 Mildred, who inspired this story, was the much loved resident cat at Tate Modern.

So, naturally, I was instantly attracted to this story when I encountered a shiny black and white cat with the twinkling eyes and enigmatic grin on the bright cover of Jono Ganz’s debut picture book.

By day, Mildred is to be found happily napping in her cosy bed and everyone thinks she is so lazy. At night time Mildred is free to explore the gallery when there is no-one else around.

‘She thought some of the art was a bit confusing, but she liked finding the pictures that had animals in them.’

 Mildred encounters many different kinds of art and each experience makes her feel something different: happiness, introspection, hunger.

Mildred ponders what it would be like if she too could create a work of art, something that would make other people feel the kinds of things that she had felt in the gallery. Her adult introspection, ‘And is being an artist doomed to be the privilege of the special few…?’ is undercut by her realisation that there is also a mouse in the gallery enjoying the art.

A classic cat and mouse chase ensues with all the inevitable slapstick humour culminating in a double page SPLAT. Mildred does not catch the mouse but, in the midst of all the chaos, she has created a fantastical sculpture, a self-portrait that astounds the visitors. She has found a way to become an artist.

Mildred is a delightful character who demonstrates how looking at art can be confusing at first but, once you start looking and finding points of interest, it can make you make you feel so many different things. It can also inspire you to create.

As befits a work commissioned by the Tate, the book itself is a well-crafted physical object. The font is clear and appealing with a beautiful colour palate.

Jono’s illustrations flow and dance across the pages and have a delightful cut out and collage feel. Mildred’s (and the mouse’s) character shines through on every page and the text has warmth, humour and a gentle poetic flow. It is no surprise that this picture book has been shortlisted for the 2023 Klaus Flugge prize.

I would have liked a list of the art works that Mildred encountered in the gallery (e.g. Dali, Matisse, Lichtenstein, Kusama, Calder, Kenoujak, and the aptly named Elizabeth Catlett) so that I could retrace Mildred’s paw prints and seek the artworks out in the gallery or look at them online. Although the picture book has a more general appeal by not being site specific, ’In a big building in a big city there was an art gallery.’

ISBN 978-1-84976-871-9


1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

That sounds such a delight of a picture book, Lynda - and so neatly described.

The titles in the Tate Modern bookshop are almost always very interesting, and make it hard to leave without a book that I suddenly 'really need'.