Casper White is a portrait painter. What does that actually mean? Genre were those sub-divisions (principally within the domain of painting) – once hierarchical – and later serving as a given form within which a painter might operate or behave or move to challenge its conventions and parameters.
Paintings of people still talk to the long (perhaps the longest) tradition within painting. But they can also talk to the mutability of identity; to the strange place of the studio; to those other spaces – the subject’s described surroundings; to dress, or attitude; to the relationship between light and paint matter; to the glory of youth, the gravitas of age and the hubris of posterity. They talk about lust and longing and empathy and desire. They speak of hope and of loss. They cleave and interrogate the space between truth and fantasy. They connect by means of a surrogate touch; they memorialise and they mourn.
Casper’s subjects are his friends and acquaintances. Awarded the coveted NPG Travel Award in 2017 he took these friends to clubs in Berlin and Mallorca, drawing in – and subsequently making paintings of – ecstatic nights out, and accompanying them with tender pencil portraits of the slow and quiet mornings after.
For the exhibition at Kingsgate Project Space the figure is all but gone. But the touch; the kiss of light on fabric; the sense of an ending or a recently absented presence lingers. In painted silk drapes, cut lighting gels and porcelain confetti, the close friend, the loved one, haunts the remnants from some extraordinary event – itself already transformed by memories.
Within this charged and potent environment hangs one painting by Jochen Klein (1967-1997). An adolescent boy pulls his knee up to his chest as he sits on the threshold of a park or a forest space. He looks directly out of the picture as his shoulder leans into the trunk of an autumnal silver birch. Aside from the figure and two trees, the rest of the picture dissolves into painting marks which hover on the edge of descriptive form. Refusing to depict the particularity of that place, instead the spatters and pulls of the painter’s brush allow the whole scene to become engulfed in misty light that causes the image to feel both familiar and simultaneously confined to the status of a fragile remembrance.
This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Wolfgang Tillmans collection.