Tom French Explores the Collision of the Conscious and the Unconscious Mind in “Transcend”

The mysterious influence and perpetual intrigue of the unconscious mind, and the power it wields over the conscious mind, are the primary concerns in Tom French’s latest black-and-white paintings, a selection of which is on view at Lawrence Alkin Gallery in London. Like the multifaceted mind, French’s paintings gradually reveal their complexities upon a deeper inspection.

Grounded in art historical tradition yet refreshed with a dose of contemporary realism and abstraction, French’s latest series, “Transcend,” builds upon his previous “Duality” series, which addressed the ways in which individuals are subject to ever-changing psychological forces. “Duality” was driven by research suggesting that the unconscious mind makes choices before the conscious mind is even aware; “Transcend” expands upon this investigation by visualizing the smaller parts that shape the unconscious mind even as those small parts exist at the mercy of the whole.

French’s work is marked by a juxtaposition of realism and expression-based abstraction. The more detailed, realistic forms depict what we know. Overlays of energetic, abstract brushstrokes signify the things we don’t fully understand; nevertheless, these unknown aspects can exert tremendous influence. The allusions and juxtapositions in “Transcend” function as snapshots of the psyche, exposing multiple levels of the mind and its hidden dynamics.

Painting exclusively in black and white, French cuts out color to strip down his scenes and ideas. In many pieces, realistic human forms hide within the heavily shadowed eyes of an abstract portrait. In this sense, as French has said, the figurative elements compete against “the instinctual yet hidden human drives that shape and determine the blissfully unaware subjects.”

Notably, these smaller figures appear unaware of the larger scene in which they play. Humans, too, have a way of divorcing themselves from the drama we’ve created.


—Emily Singer


Tom French: Transcend” is on view at Lawrence Alkin Gallery, London, Apr. 22–May 21, 2016.

Follow Lawrence Alkin Gallery on Artsy.

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