For the last ten years Tom de Freston has worked on collaborative projects with leading figures from the arts and academia. The results are often multimedia worlds with painting at the centre, in dialogue with poetry, film, sculpture, poetry and music. Multiple outcomes include paintings, exhibitions, installations, films, performances and graphic novels.
The projects tend to take a literary, art historical or mythological source as a start point, which is adapted to translate it into new stories. It’s a type of History Painting, exploring ways in which painting can offer new, relevant and exciting forms of narrative, and engaging dialogues between the arts.
These projects have amassed a significant track record of support and critical appraisal. De Freston has been Artistic Director of Medicine Unboxed, Creative Fellow at University of Birmingham, and been awarded the Levy Plumb residency at Cambridge University, and a Leverhulme Fellowship. Significant funding has come from the AHRC, National Trust, TORCH and the Arts Council. Collaborations and partnerships have been formed with Battersea Arts Centre, the Shakespeare Institute, the RSC and the Guardian. The projects have included publications with Routledge, Bloomsbury and Gatehouse Press, with two Saboteur Awards for best publication. Central to these collaborations is an exchange between creative and critical thinking, of working in partnership with academics, creatives, collections, venues and locations to develop ambitious and bold new creative outcomes.
Across the various projects there has been a tendency towards recurring themes and archetypes: a central figure makes a journey from a familiar space into a strange world, gets lost, then transformed before finally returning home. Along the way they meet strange characters: horse-heads, minotaurs, golems, doubles and monsters. The spaces are labyrinthine, each painting a window onto a room. The topography of the worlds is storm ridden, beauty filled with terror, often threatening to enter or destroy the safety of the architecture. The journeys see the personal and domestic enter the space of the apocalyptic and the Sublime. The paintings are unhomely, threshold spaces.
In recent projects there has been an emergence of autobiographical content. This has resulted in Tom’s memoir Wreck, which explores grief played out in paintings made in the year after his father died.
Tom is now constructing a new mythology with personal experiences of trauma and mental illness at its centre. As with past projects, he will be collaborating with his wife, the novelist and poet Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Together they are exploring articulations of trauma in the characters and topography of Shakespearian Tragedy, specifically Poor Tom and the Macbeths, as well as real life and art historical explorations of PTSD in Gericualt’s Raft of the Medusa and Goya’s Black Paintings.
The outcomes will include paintings, drawings, poems, and a documentary film. Source material and other visuals such as photographs and sculptures central to the creative process will become part of the fabric of the world. Each outcome will be both a self contained moment but also a part of the whole.
This new project is an attempt for radical vulnerablity and authenticity. It is a search for psychological narrative truth in all its multiplicity: an honest attempt to build a multimedia, fictional narrative which explores the complex experiences of trauma.
“They inspire in the reader/viewer the same sense of disquiet and dread and awe -because there is a beauty too. It’s like you’ve both breathed in his darkness and made it your own”Sir Anthony Sher on House of the Deaf Man.
“The installation of de Freston work creates a harmonious celebration in a Chapel where art, architecture, prayer and music come together to provide a deeply moving spiritual experience.” Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate
“Obsessed by images of humanity on the very edge of disintegration, Tom de Freston is audacious enough to convey our most haunted fears about a world struggling for survival in the twenty-first century.” Richard Cork, Art Critic
“I get exactly that feeling of bleak despair from Tom’s harrowing Lear paintings, powerful to encounter and difficult to live with.” Sir Trevor Nunn
“The Charnel House’ is extraordinary. It teems with life, composed in all kinds of fractal, doubling structures and through the looking glass possibilities. Every node and fold in de Freston’s visions is potentially apocalyptic, but also a personal suffering, or a barely communicable erotic paroxysm; every figure might be released into their own tale – which is precisely what the book achieves, whilst also implying countless other narratives, waiting to be released.’ Professor Simon Palfrey, Oxford University
“Tom de Freston has produced something quite unlike any book I have seen before. The pictures are disturbing, the poems challenging. There is a prodigal richness of talent allied to a tumultuously anarchic vision that demands – and finds – a quite new way of expressing itself.” Professor John Carey- literary critic for the Sunday Times.
2016 Saboteur Award winner for ‘A Fool’s Worlds’
2016 onwards- Artistic Director, Medicine Unboxed
2016- Birmingham University Creative Fellow
2016 Arts Council GFA for OE exhibition and performances
2016- Battersea Arts Centre and Guardian Artists Bedrooms commission
2016- Arts Council GFA for OE film.
2015- Saboteur Award winner for The Charnel House.
2014- Aldeburgh Lookout Tower residency- as part of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
2013- 2015- Artist in Residence- Medicine Unboxed
2012: Represented UK at World Event Young Artists 2012, Nottingham
2012- Artist in Residence, The Expansionists- Whitstable.
2012: Hatley Artist in Residence, Centre for Recent Drawing (C4RD)
2010 – 2011: Leverhulme Artist in Residence, Cambridge University
2009 – 2011: Artist in Residence, The Leys
2008 – 2009: Levy Plumb Visual Arts Residency, Christ’s College
September 2011- May 2016 Represented by Breese Little Gallery (London)
October 09- July 2011: History of Art Faculty, Cambridge University: Supervisor/lecturer.
September 07-July 08: Warwickshire School of Arts- Senior lecturer and tutor
Exhibitions: see exhibitions section