Wreck | Granta

  • Published: 02/03/2023
  • ISBN: 9781783786657
  • Granta Books
  • 352 pages


Tom de Freston

Artist Tom de Freston has long had an obsession with Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa, and the troubling story behind its creation. The monumental canvas, which hangs in the Louvre, depicts a 19th century tragedy in which 150 people were drowned at sea on a raft lost in a stormy sea, when the ship Medusa was wrecked on shallow ground.

When de Freston began making an artwork with Ali, a Syrian writer blinded by a bombing, The Raft’s depiction of pain and suffering resonated powerfully with him, as did Géricault’s awful life story. It spoke not only to Ali’s story but to Tom’s family history of trauma and anguish, offering him a passage out of the dark waters in which he found himself.

In spellbinding, visceral prose, de Freston opens a window onto the magnetic frisson that runs between a past masterpiece and contemporary artistic endeavours. He asks powerful questions about how we might translate violence, fear and trauma into art, how we try to make sense of seemingly unthinkable acts, and the value in facing and depicting the darkest horrors.

Géricault''s Raft stands as a statement as much as painting, a history lesson, a nightmare, a gigantic perfidy, a visual shorthand for abuse and disaster rendered in exquisite oils... In pulses of literary reference and art history and Gericault''''s own radical life story, de Freston evokes a provocative new voyage for the rotting raft - seen through his own visceral experience of the vast painting, and its uproarious terrors and visions, which hold a mortal but undying resonance for our own times... A stupendous work

Philip Hoare

To read Wreck is to observe a mind as it delves into the pentimenti of the past, moving through complexities of horror, art, solidarity, and trauma. Unforgettable

Doireann Ní Ghríofa, author of A Ghost in the Throat

Not only an extraordinary exploration of how an artwork is created but a devastating portrayal of what it means to means to struggle, to be human, to find hope. A darting, incredibly ambitious book which brings together the head and the heart. I am still ringing with the experience of reading it

Daisy Johnson, author of Sisters

The Author

Tom de Freston is a visual artist based in Oxford. Among various fellowships and residencies he has held a Leverhulme residency at Cambridge University, a Levy Plumb Residency at Christ’s College and the inaugural Creative Fellowship at Birmingham University. His work is regularly exhibited, and is represented in numerous public and private collections. With his wife, the writer Kiran Millwood Hargrave, he is the co-author of Orpheus and Eurydice and Julia and the Shark. Wreck is his debut non-fiction work.

More about the author →

Tom de Freston on Granta.com

Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition

The Fire

Tom de Freston

A fire breaks out in Tom de Freston’s painting studio.