Over the weekend we spoke to senior Australian artist Ann Thomson who has developed a refined and instinctual practice over five decades, and counting. Working out of her coastal studio we discussed how she still finds inspiration and splendour in the everyday. Described by the late Edmund Capon ‘one of the most interesting and intuitive artists in Australia today’, Thomson creates compelling works that are evocative of a passing moment or sense of place within the landscape. The vibrant dynamism that characterises Thomson’s practice has been shaped by her movement across the mediums of sculpture, ceramics, collages and paintings, and by her travels across Australia and internationally.
It was our pleasure to include Thomson’s work in a curated survey show for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Sydney in 2019. The artist has an exhibition in August with Mitchell Fine Art, Brisbane and will soon be travelling with Euan Macleod, Joe Furlong and Peter Hudson for a painting project in Western Queensland, and after this join a group of Aboriginal women artists at a special location.
You live in Bronte, where beaches have been closed during the pandemic. As someone who swims everyday how has this affected you?
It only kept me out for two weeks, then they gradually reopened the Bronte pool and Clovelly beach. What happened was I went for different and longer walks and I discovered, even having lived here since the 1980s, I could still find lots of places I had never been to quite nearby. I’ve been seeing more, I have been able to take in more. It’s shifted my perception. Walking and seeing is and has been a big part of my work. I’m a swimmer so a lot of my work and visual input comes from looking underwater. At Clovelly, for instance, you can see all sorts of fish and things growing under the water, it changes so much it’s unbelievable. But, everything changes.
The combination of light and movement is an interesting real-world example of the collision of abstraction and figuration.
Yes, that’s right. It’s the way we see things and the way we’re involved. We can integrate ourselves as part of seeing somehow. Swimming is a good way of doing that as you’re changing your vision all the time.
This shows your drive to ‘want to paint what you don’t know’ can you comment on how this continues to evolve in your practice?
I’ll use a quote from Ian Fairweather – when he was being interviewed by a reporter they asked ‘Well, what do you do all day?’ as Fairweather mostly painted at night. The artist looked at him and said ‘I paint, damn it!’ As an artist it’s when you’re not doing it, you’re doing it. I don’t think up ideas, or a whole idea. I just need something to get started. I work on about five things at once, I go from one to the other and think ‘Oh that needs, that’ and then I find it out there. I seek and then I find.
Do you think these times are making us see the value of art differently or reinforcing its intrinsic value?
If only! Because I’m a painter and I think about galleries and people looking at art, there are all sorts of ways of making art but it needs to be seen. Is it making people look more? People are pleased to be going back to the galleries now but also looking more online. It’s interesting to predict what will happen. What I’m wondering is how can creativity be developed now? It’s being crushed. Creative thinking is so important for the world. You’re lucky if you have a long life as an artist. It is such a long journey and full of such different possibilities. You change and life changes around you.
After more than 50 years as an artist, what have you realised about your practice?
It just becomes more and more who you are. An artist is able to interact with the world. Thinking with an artist can be so fluid and creative. As an artist I just know it as an evolving thing.
Ann Thomson is represented by Defiance Gallery, Sydney, Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, Mitchell Fine Art, Brisbane and Stéphane Jacob, Paris.
This article is presented in collaboration with 3:33 Art Projects