Follow one of the Islington Storytellers, Ruth, to venture deep into Cross Street Islington, where No 20 Arts hosts the exhibition FROM DARKNESS that aims to ‘make the unseen seen’. Open until June 18th, this Tom de Freston’s solo show explores the lingering fear of suffering and terror, and is tied back to a touching personal story of the artist.
Tom de Freston, the renowned British multi-media artist and author unveiled his most recent solo exhibition – FROM DARKNESS alongside the publication of his book, Wreck (Granta). Hidden amongst the lush shrubberies of a residential street in Islington, upon entering the gallery, I was not prepared to be confronted by an installation of the burnt down skeletons of three huge canvases looming over from the very centre of the room. Setting the tone of the exhibition, this gigantic piece is surrounded by paintings on the wall caught up in a swirling chaos of colours balancing between beauty and horror. Upon closer examination, imprinted feet, limbs, and body parts started to emerge from a perplexing accumulation of paint. Ashes and debris are mixed into the brushstrokes, rendering the room an ethereal scent of burnt wood and a lingering fear, but also, curiosity.
This exhibition explores an entirely new approach to materiality and visuality that is inspired by two of the artist’s personal stories. Freston has been working with Syrian Professor Ali Souleman for the past four years. Freston writes in his statement ‘Ali lost his sights to a bomb blast in Syria in 1997, and we were attempting to translate his experiences of war and displacement into a collection of paintings. To make the unseen seen’. The paintings are made without the final end goal of being seen by an audience. Instead, Freston was interested in curating an experience for Ali- ‘seeing’ and experiencing the works from his perspective through tactile experience and materiality.
This project was then destroyed by a fire in Freston’s studio a month before the first lockdown. Twelve years of work were reduced to debris in a matter of hours. ‘This would not be an end, but a new beginning’, says Freston. His art rose from the debris like a phoenix rising from ashes.
The terror of war coincides with the violence of the fire – together, both transformed into apocalyptic spectacle. Long been fascinated by multi-media artworks’ potential to create an immersive visceral narrative, the works in FROM DARKNESS continue to explore the boundaries of visual media. The haunting turmoil of colours occupies our minds with fear, and the texture and materiality transform the visual plane into an abyss of depth, pulling us into the painting beyond the surface.
Towards the end of the exhibition, a short documentary shows the story about the fire and Freston’s creative process with Professor Souleman. What Freston guided Professor Souleman’s hands and body to ‘see’ is what we can see today with our eyes in No 20 Arts. Does art trespass the visual realm? Or is reducing art to a visual medium limiting its tactile potentials? These are some questions I invite you to explore as you wander through the exhibition FROM DARKNESS.
Does art trespass the visual realm? Or is reducing art to a visual medium limiting its tactile potentials? These are some questions I invite you to explore as you wander through the exhibition FROM DARKNESS.ruth, islinton storyteller contributor
The exhibition includes more than 70 pieces of multi-media painting, sculpture, and documentary film by artist Tom de Freston. The gallery is located on Cross Street Islington, and the admission is free.