Tom de Freston – I Saw This
Imprint: Anomie Publishing
192 Pages, 8.45 x 10.4 in
- November 2023
- In Stock
I Saw This was born out of a collaboration between de Freston, filmmaker Mark Jones, and Dr Ali Souleman after de Freston was introduced to the academic in 2017. The paintings and mixed-media works that resulted from the project are an exploration into Souleman’s experiences of terrorism, displacement, and war in Syria and ruminate on how art can attempt to represent suffering and terror. In 1996, a bomb explosion in Damascus on New Year’s Eve nearly killed Souleman and left him blind. A sensitive and highly-charged topic, Souleman explained to de Freston the importance of engaging with what is happening in Syria. Disembodied mouths, hands, and feet appear frequently in the works. Circles recur as a motif, which bear an uncomfortable resemblance to eyes and eye sockets. In the Mirror paintings which stand upright in black boxes, de Freston embeds ash, screws, thick glue, dirt, and bits of wood into the canvas. They are corporeal and volcanic, visceral and abstract. The sense of molten heat in the paintings was compounded by a fire in de Freston’s studio in 2020, which was simultaneously destructive while giving the artist and the collaboration new momentum.
The singular artistic process between the three men involves de Freston describing the paintings to Souleman through words and touch. Souleman brings fresh meaning to the works by reading them in new ways, grounding them in his psychological landscape. Mark Jones captures these interactions in striking photographs and film footage. The collaborators’ close relationships, with each of their practices feeding into the others’, shine through.
Habda Rashid, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Kettle’s Yard and the Fitzwilliam Museum, introduces I Saw This and considers the challenges and significance of incorporating elements from real life. Journalist Yasmina Floyer’s contribution describes her reaction to de Freston’s work at his From Darkness exhibition at No 20 Arts, where she found that the sooty-black feet stencils and inky circles depicted resonated with her own experience of child loss. The moving text shows how de Freston’s art carries both specific and universal meanings. Editor Matt Price elaborates on the collaborative process and identifies layers of symbolism across the project, structuring his essay with fascinating quotes from Abu al-Ala al-Ma’arri, the eleventh-century blinded Arab philosopher. Crucially, de Freston, Jones, and Souleman’s voices are present in the book, with each shedding light on their part in the project. De Freston’s art is rooted in empathy and I Saw This is a culmination of this, successfully translating Souleman’s world of memory and metaphor.