Ann Thomson

“. . . an amalgamation of abstraction and figuration”

In an apparent turning of the generational tables, Sydney’s S.H. Ervin Gallery has become known in recent years for promoting the careers of senior Australian painters still working in their prime. Elizabeth Cummings, now eighty-nine, held a retrospective exhibition at the Gallery in 2017, and Guy Warren, now 102, had a survey show in 2016 at the tender age of ninety-five. Now Ann Thomson is getting her turn. At age ninety-one, Thomson has held an esteemed career for six decades, yet her name has not always attracted the amount of public attention as some of her contemporaries. The painter, sculptor, ceramicist, and collage artist still holds regular commercial exhibitions and is working as actively as ever. This current survey exhibition, curated by Terence Maloon, focuses on key paintings and drawings that Thomson has produced over the past two decades.

Ann Thomson, Orion, 2014, acrylic on linen, 103 × 201cm. Private Collection

The Brisbane-born artist has been a force in Australian art since graduating from the National Art School in the early 1960s. Art school was a fervent creative environment for the young painter, working with peers such as Peter Powditch, Colin Lanceley and Martin Sharp, along with teachers including Robert Klippel, John Passmore and Godfrey Miller. American expressionism was a strong influence in the late 1950s and 60s and therefore picture making became more important to artists than replicating nature.

Over the years Thomson became known as an abstract painter, although her expressive, fluid imagery could be described as an amalgamation of abstraction and figuration, evoking a passing moment in time or a visual memory of a place or environment. The works may initially appear as abstract compositions, but remnants of the landscape are never far from the surface.

Over time the artist has learnt to trust the creative process and has commented that overthinking the practice can get in the way of the artwork. Her paintings reveal a visceral intensity, with compositions streaked in ochres, terracotta and sunshine yellow. In other artworks she employs bold colours in aquatic blues and greens, perhaps reflective of her coastal Sydney home. Paints are splattered and swirled across the picture surface and drips often run down the edges of the canvas.

Ann Thomson, L–R: What the Painter is Told on the subject of Landscape, 2003, oil on canvas, 153 × 214cm. Private Collection. Courtesy the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne / Geisha, 2011, acrylic and collage on linen, 163 × 120cm. Private Collection / Quantum Morning, 2014–16, acrylic and tarred paper collage on linen, 152.5 × 183cm / Transition, 2018, acrylic on linen, 153 × 122.5cm. Private collection. Courtesy the artist and Defiance Gallery, Sydney / Cloudburst, 2014, oil on canvas, 94 × 122cm

Through the decades Thomson has held countless exhibitions throughout Australia and overseas, in the process winning major prizes such as the 1988 Wynne Prize, the 2005 Kedumba Drawing Prize and the 2002 Geelong Contemporary Art Prize. In latter years, curator Maloon remarks that Thomson’s work is wilder and freer than ever before, whilst encompassing a unity and resolution. He comments that “Physical exuberance is innate to her, and is expressed more strongly than ever in her recent work. Her feeling for pulse and rhythm, for irrepressible physical energies projected into space, imputes her pictorial conceptions with a great vivacity.”

The late French painter Jean Bazaine believed that only through intense and passionate labour could artists attain the quality of youthfulness in their art practice. “Youthfulness in paintings is slowly attained”, he wrote in Le temps de la peinture, 1938–1998. “It is granted as a reward to the only-timers who merit it. You need to drink long and deeply of the milk of life before it starts to go to your head.” Using this definition, Thomson can safely be categorised as a youthful painter. This survey exhibition, with its loose, rhythmic and vigorous imagery, possesses the energy and vivacity of an artist still at the peak of her creative powers.

Victoria Hynes is a Sydney-based visual arts writer and editor.


S. H. Ervin Gallery
2 January to 3 March 2024

HELP DESK: | PH: +612 8227 6486