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. At the same time, though, he views this present-day crisis through the perspective of Shakespeare’s plays. In Lear and the Fool in the Storm, the blanched and vulnerable monarch raises his slender arms as if to plead with heaven. The grotesque figure accompanying the rejected king is clearly incapable of helping his master, and de Freston’s agitated handling of paint intensifies their plight.
The artist’s macabre sense of humour asserts itself in MSND. Bottom and Titania both look drugged as they strive for consoling affection in a dark, nightmarish region where sinister and mask-like faces hover on wings. They testify to de Freston’s fascination with cartoon imagery, while the smiling nearby figures bear an unexpected resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. But we can take no comfort from her bizarre presence here. De Freston ensures that his pigment coagulates in encrusted layers of impasto towards the shadowy base of this painting. Nor are we reassured by Bathroom, where images of Macbeth and Banquo’s lethal struggle have become fused with memories of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat and Francis Bacon’s tragic images of his lover, George Dyer, committing suicide on a lavatory seat in a Paris hotel.
De Freston’s eloquent mark-making moves from passages of precise linear definition to areas alive with scribbles, splashes and splodges. In King Lear -End Scene, the ghoulish and dehumanised spectators who gaze so heartlessly at Cordelia’s corpse are defined with crisp, economical strokes of the brush. But the cosmos above is heavy with ominous clouds, threatening to engulf the distraught father and his lifeless daughter in a truly apocalyptic storm.