Career to date
Tom de Freston is an artist based in Oxford with his wife the writer Kiran Millwood Hargrave. He is currently Creative Fellow at University of Birmingham and Artistic Director at Medicine Unboxed. Past positions include the Levy Plumb Visual Arts residency at Christ’s College, Cambridge (2008-2009), a Leverhulme-funded residency at Cambridge University and the Hatley Residency at C4RD (2011).
He has had solo shows at a wide variety of major institutions and commercial galleries, details of which are in the exhibition section of this website. He has had eight books published in various forms with publishers such as Bloomsbury, Routledge and Gatehouse press, details of which are in the publications section. He is represented by Chris Wellbelove of Alexander and Aitken for his written work. An archive of essays and reviews on his work by other people can be found in the reviews section.
Other collaborations including films and performances can be found in the exhibition and events section.
Tom de Freston is an artist based in Oxford. Since 2007 he has devoted his practice to the construction of multimedia worlds. He brings painting, film, sculpture and poetry together to form complex narratives in a pioneering approach to transmedia storytelling, with outcomes including exhibitions, films, publications and performances. The worlds are self contained, with the characters, aesthetic structure and rules ensuring that each project exists as an independent imaginary ‘island’. The various projects involve collaborations with some of the most exciting talents from across the arts and academia.
A number of his projects are ekphrastic, taking literary, mythological and historical sources as the start point for adaptations and translations which explode the original and then look to grown new autonomous worlds from the remains. A contemporary form of History Painting, his practice looks to bring fresh relevance to the human desire to find meaning through images and stories, from cave walls to iPad screens.
His images emerge from a process of unique experimentation, using performance, photography, film, printing, collage, masks, digital image making and drawing. The worlds are not designed but generate themselves, with one medium and process feeding another, so it is in perpetual evolution, populating itself. The result is islands, underworlds and mazes haunted by minotaurs, horseheads, doubles and Golems.
The spaces of his paintings play on oppositions, geometrically ordered architectural interiors versus the chaos of nature and abstraction. It is a form of entropy, the safe spaces of homes collapsing, of the strange invading and fracturing the familiar. The weather systems of paint see the micro fold out to the macro, with associations multiplying to form topographies which are unique to the painted worlds.
Each canvas is presented as a room, a moment or a poem to step inside, opening up for the viewer to inhabit and explore. They are maps, a form of cartography. Each presents multiple perspectives and various layers of time; fragmented narratives and fractal spaces. It is a liminal space, one slipping between recursive births and deaths. Each image presents a narrative moment in flux which is both autonomous and a piece of a wider labyrinth world. The rules of engagement see time and space become as fluid as the movement between myths.
Thematically the paintings engage with history, reflecting on how it rhymes and repeats, drawing from the history of History Painting, appropriating zombified images to remix the past to reflect on the present. They are images full of visceral violence, capturing a society of the spectacle, a Tragic world of suffering and trauma, yet there is beauty there as well. His are unashamedly Romantic images, looking to the sublime and the power of art and nature to provide moments of transcendence. They are a box of mirrors, refractions of a broken world, but with an earnest and authentic belief in the power of art to heal the wounds of a broken world.
In a world where we are presented with an exponentially growing mass of imagery and connection there is a paradoxical isolation, a sense of separation. The apocalyptic images of de Frestons work are non ironic angst ridden reflections of a world in crisis. It is a world on the verge of collapse, in danger of eating itself, a digital Frankenstein’s monster of our own creation.
“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