Tom Jean Webb: Fighting order to find landscape
At Brooke Benington gallery, London, UK artist now in the US, Tom Jean Webb, looks through a domestic window to see a world of seeming disorder. Once there, as Will Jennings discovers, there is a new kind of order.

When Gregor Samsa fell asleep, he didn’t expect to wake up transformed into an insect, and was in no way ready for his existential Metamorphosis drama. He almost certainly didn’t expect Franz Kafka to document the trauma and turn his reality into a drama, and for his embarrassing insect-situation to become a cultural shorthand for anxiety, angst, anti-capitalist longings of freedom, or psychological analysis. Yet, it offers a canvas for all these, and more.

The first room of Tom Jean Webb’s paintings at Brooke Benington, London, also invite such animalistic renderings. One, Our leading light (2023) focuses on a moth crawling up a wall towards a light switch – it is either oversized or the architecture it finds itself within has become doll’s house in scale, perhaps this moth is a Samsor-like transmogrification reaching towards the last human-scale button that might illuminate their situation.

Water drops seem to cascade down the wall, connecting to a nearby painting Am I wild (2024) with spilt water under a vase of flowers. The water has escaped, its spillage a sign of resisting control, and the painterly qualities of the work also seem to be resisting their absorption into art history. There is a presence of Van Gogh’s chair, Munch’s colour field, Schiele’s botanical distress, and Gauguin’s lighting – with this image Webb seems to be asking how a painter in 2024 can escape the confines of that which has been painted before.

Connections continue. The moth is reflected in a facing canvas, a symmetrical arrangement of what seems to now be a butterfly drawn to the modernist lightbulb, but one wrapped in cobwebs – the whole arrangement transfiguring into a haunting face. A dog looks on, the raindrops also entering their world and mingling with the fabric, perhaps they are sitting the other side of the same window that the Samsor-moth is gallantly manoeuvring. Opposite the dog, a smaller canvas with a paw appears as a snapshot of a story we do not know the past to, and will never know the next scene of. Next to the paw is a stone, set upon the gridded geometry of the floor, as if an allegory of modern order. Altogether, these interconnected moments are at once both domestic and calm, uncanny and disturbing, and pregnant with the unknown.

Downstairs into the second space of Brooke Benington, nature has subsumed any hope of narrative we may have been looking for. A spider – perhaps that which created the bulb-web – dominates the largest canvas, nature as a battle between rebirth, destruction, and a delicate equilibrium. As the spider stole the frame there, in Where is my jungle (2023) most of the scene is given to a single leaf, photobombing its way into what Webb may have intended as a more picturesque scene, reminding that nature will do as it wishes, but that within uncontrollability a beauty can be found.

The other two paintings in this room, We are time (2024) and Watch me roar (2023) both seem to be looking for pattern or order within nature’s chaos, but without finding it – which is a good thing. Vibrancy, pattern, disorder, and decay queer compositions that seem to be struggling to find an order, geometry, and normative form. Nature has no normativity.

The two rooms together invite conversation. Upstairs, there is humanity, domesticity, and architectural order framing, shaping, and conforming the natural and unnatural acts. Downstairs, it is more chaotic, as if Samsor had let go early, capitulated to his mothness and embraced an escape from bourgeoise into biological mess. This is fantastical, escapist, and anthropological, with Webb using the language of a century of painting looking for ways to escape and resist nostalgia.

Tom Jean Webb, originally from the UK, is an Austin based artist who has a deep admiration for the expansive landscapes of the American Southwest. His paintings and sculpture focus on the relationship between the human experience and the natural world and they allow the viewer to reflect upon the personal journeys we all encounter. His poetic, and sometimes playful imagery simultaneously grounds the viewer and reminds them that the mysterious, arbitrary, and sometimes absurd is part of life.

Will Jennings is a London based writer, visual artist, and educator interested in cities, architecture, and culture. He has written for the RIBA Journal, the Journal of Civic Architecture, Quietus, The Wire, the Guardian, and Icon. He teaches history and theory at UCL Bartlett and Greenwich University, and is director of UK cultural charity Hypha Studios.


A Bark to Blossom: Tom Jean Webb is on at Brooke Benington, London, until 20 April. Further details available at:


All installation photographs courtesy Brooke Benington.

publication date
18 March 2024

Brooke Benington, Dog, Paul Gauguin, Franz Kafka, Will Jennings, Metamorphosis, Moth, Edvard Munch, Nature, Painting, Gregor Samsor, Egon Schiele, Spider, Transmogrification, Vincent Van Gogh, Tom Jean Webb