Tom White: Between the Shadow and the Soul

6 October - 11 November 2023 London

Private View: Thursday 5th of October 2023,  6:30-8:30 pm

London (Wandsworth)


‘I love you as one loves certain obscure things,  

secretly, between the shadow and the soul’ - from One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda


Bathed in golden light, a hand reaches to tuck locks of blonde hair behind an ear. Fingertips rest on the breastbone of a languid body. A naked woman stands illuminated, facing into the shadows. London-based artist Tom White captures ephemeral moments at an intimate scale. His paintings are of people he knows and loves, their movements and bodies depicted in soft, sensuous detail. Between the Shadow and the Soul, White’s first solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, presents a powerful new body of work that sees the artist observe and record the body in abstract gestures: each work is a freeze-frame of a fleeting moment, a visual memory that is both startling vivid and dreamlike, on the cusp of fading. 


In this latest series, White approaches the body and in particular hands as a map of the soul. Subtle gestures, the creases of the skin convey complex and sometimes contradictory emotions – vulnerability, unguardedness, exhaustion, calm, love, sorrow. His figures are all anonymous, presented in closely-cropped poses and set largely against dark, impenetrable backgrounds, and yet, they are also strikingly familiar. We recognise if not the individual then the gesture, or the moment in time – dawn, sunset, the precious moments before we get up or go to bed. As White puts it, ‘We like to think of ourselves and our relationships as unique but private moments between two people are often quite universal: we share a language of intimacy.’


Although the paintings depict only singular figures, we always sense the presence of another, lurking beyond the confines of the canvas while the depiction of hands, rendered at a larger-than-life scale, convey the idea of tactility, of connection to self and to others. In everyday life, the gestures White captures may often pass us by in their brevity but caught on canvas each becomes loaded with different layers of meaning. For instance, a hand encircling a wrist, or a fingertip tucked beneath the cuff of a shirt sleeve may suggest coyness – the model knowingly performing for the artist – or discomfort as the figure becomes aware of the light on their body and of White’s gaze.


In perhaps the most brazen of the paintings a naked figure stands with their back to us, the light – like a spotlight – accentuating the curves of their silhouette, the sweeping line down their spine, the movement of their shoulder blades as they push their arms back. And yet, the longer we contemplate the image, the softer and more fluid it becomes: the brushstrokes reveal themselves while the smooth, seemingly flawless skin becomes a surface composed of different hues and delicate shading. This fluctuation between the concrete and the abstract reflects on the ways in which we understand and process imagery, but also on the nature of intimacy itself: how we can never really know or represent, whether it be in painting or words, another person fully just as we may never know the deepest, darkest parts of ourselves. It is this sense of searching that creates a kind of mournful beauty in White’s paintings: his figures bare their bodies and souls, but only ever in brief, startling fragments.