Scavengers is a collection of twenty paintings and poems by the painter Tom de Freston and the poet Kiran Millwood Hargrave and. The works respond in different degrees, to the plays of Shakespeare.
This collection of paintings by Tom de Freston, inspired by Shakespeare, and poems by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, responding to those paintings, exactly expresses my belief that personal and passionate responses to Shakespeare are invariably invigorating, exciting and necessary.
It’s clear though that I arrive at Tom’s paintings not resisting but wanting to be challenged by his personal response to plays I think I know inside out. It’s equally clear to me that Tom is what we must term a ‘post Freudian’, influenced not only by Sigmund but also by Lucian. Sigmund would be most interested in the way the paintings are frequently dream like, as in sexual and sensual dreams, and in the collision of opposites (a female mask on a sprawled nude male body, a crowned king on a toilet, a bird beaked creature having climactic intercourse with a naked woman…). And Shakespeare is himself fascinated with dreams, as we know from The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, not to mention the nightmare world of Macbeth and the sexual fantasies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But these paintings also put the human form under a merciless gaze; Tom refuses to idealise our bodies, our genitalia, our corpulence or our angularity – a gaze which implicitly acknowledges Lucian Freud’s oeuvre, in its unsentimental, unforgiving and at times baleful scrutiny. Ophelia lies naked, confined in a bathtub, rather than floating in a stream; the Macbeths slump in exhausted contemplation in a Psycho blood-spattered bathroom, Othello contemplates the murder of his erotically naked Desdemona in an intensely private situation that might instead become marital rape. Juliet lies abandoned to her sexual fantasies, naked on a shroud-draped bed in a climactic dream of her Romeo. Even Lear is naked, with his naked dead daughter, and naked expresses my belief that personal and passionate responses to Shakespeare are invariably invigorating, exciting and necessary.
As Shakespeare concluded, the human being is a “poor bare forked animal” and Tom is determined not to let us forget this strand, not only in the ultimately pessimistic tragedy Lear, but in many of the foregoing plays. The most vividly theatrical insight in this distinctly vivid collection (for me, having recently directed King Lear) is The Blinding, a Guantanamo world, lit by a single naked bulb, creating instantly a sense of a featureless grim environment in which anonymous faceless humans can torture, disregarding all the tenets of humanity. It’s my personal conclusion that in this play, Shakespeare abandons all belief in the human species as the central part of a heavenly plan. The gods, the object of repeated appeals during the escalating cruelty, are silent and never intervene, on the side of the good, the innocent, the faithful… and by the end of the play, as they fail to prevent Cordelia’s needless death, Shakespeare seems to be saying, “there’s nothing up there”. 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