Elizabeth Thomson is one of New Zealand's leading contemporary artists, with a career spanning over 30 years. A conceptual and interdisciplinary artist, Thomson creates works that span a range of media, including painting, printmaking, photography, and sculpture.Read More
Her work draws on music, philosophy, and mathematics as well as the natural world, involving a variety of botanical, organic, and molecular forms. The interaction between art and science has become a key focus of her work in the age of globalisation and climate change.
Born in Auckland, Thomson studied printmaking and sculpture at the University of Auckland's Elam School of Fine Art, graduating with a Master of Arts in 1988. Thomson has had an extensive exhibition history throughout New Zealand and Sydney, and has received numerous awards for her work, including the Paramount Award in the Wallace Arts Awards with her work Southern Cross Paterre (1998).
In 2006, a significant 20-year retrospective of her work, Elizabeth Thomson: My Hi-Fi My Sci-Fi, was held at City Gallery Wellington before touring to four public venues across New Zealand.
Installed on a large wall, the immersive sculptural installation Flight Test (2005—2006) was composed of thousands of precisely placed, handmade zinc leaves, evoking an aerial view of trees. Utilising a mathematical pattern to create an illusionistic space of lightness and flight, the work occupies both two and three dimensions, creating an optical tension between order and disorder reminiscent of British artist Bridget Riley.
In 2011, Thomson was one of nine artists invited to join an expedition aboard the HMNZS Otago to the Kermadec Islands, a volcanic island group in the South Pacific, northeast of Auckland. The experience of swimming in the iridescent blue ocean during this journey at the crossing of the Tropic of Capricorn was the impetus for an important body of work exploring colour, materiality, narratives of discovery, and our connection to the natural world.
The following exhibition Voyage Sauvage (2014) at Dominik Mersch Gallery in Sydney was a visual and sensory conjuring of the ocean. Examples such as Numinous Transitive Blue V (2014), with its undulating surface, and the jewel-like Star Map 1, with an intricate layer of glass beads, are examples of the optical intensity of these works.
In 2014, Thomson exhibited hundreds of flocked bronze moths in an immersive installation at the Dowse Museum in Lower Hutt, and again at Tauranga Art Gallery in 2015. Entitled An Invitation to Openness — Substantive and Transitive States, this installation was inspired by the mass of moths Thomson encountered at Raoul Island in the Kermadecs as well as childhood memory. These white creatures appear like ghostly apparitions, capturing a moment in time and evoking a sense of purity and mystery. Their presence left Thomson with a sense of peace and a reminder of the sensation she felt swimming underwater over the Kermadec Trench.
Thomson's most recent survey show Cellular Memory (2017) at Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of Art and History is a celebration of three decades working across a variety of media, shaped by memory and observations from travels in Europe, America, the Pacific, and New Zealand. This exhibition explores the relationship between humanity and the natural environment.
Thomson often starts with photographic elements of the smallest detail, such as bacteria, blood cells, or close-up views of beaches. Sculptural elements are added to create abstract visual fields, incorporating glass beading, zinc, bronze, fibreglass, and wood panelling. Gregory O'Brien notes that these works 'offer a view of the world which is at once molecular and planetary.'
Thomson is interested in optics and how things change and shift as you experience them. Her more recent work is a play on aerial views of landscape painting. Interpreting the concept of Synthetic Cubism, Thomson explores the effect that agriculture and horticulture have on the land, resulting in the creation of man-made landscape collages. With finely tuned skills of observation, Thomson is constantly innovating new ways of seeing, feeling, and understanding the world.
Elizabeth Thomson's relief sculptures and printed works are held in major public institutions including Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.
Selected solo exhibitions include Cubist Encounters, Page Galleries, Wellington (2021); Lateral Theories, Two Rooms, Auckland (2021); Out on the Plain, The Central Art Gallery, Christchurch (2020); Waking Up Slowly, Elizabeth Thomson and Len Lye, Govett-Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth (2019); Elizabeth Thomson: The Greening of New Blueland, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua, New Zealand (2018); Elizabeth Thomson — Cellular Memory: A Survey Exhibition 1989-2017, Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton, New Zealand (2017); Invitation to Openness — Substantive and Transitive States, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, New Zealand (2014); and Voyage Sauvage, Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney, Australia (2014).
Frances Crombie | Ocula | 2021