Ann Thomson: Osmosis

At an expressive high point in her nearly sixty-year career, Ann Thomson's new paintings find a clear, robust visual language which defies expectations of genre. We examine this new work, currently on display at Defiance Gallery.

When Ann Thomson spoke to Bridget Macleod in Artist Profile Issue 35 (2016), she explained that ‘I put my mind into neutral when I paint, and when I’m painting I’m painting.’ From this ‘neutrality’ emerges its opposite: boldly expressive, gestural and memory-charged paintings which work across the figurative and the abstract at once. Since graduating from the National Art School – or rather East Sydney Tech, as it was called at the time – in 1962, she has painted voraciously, and often collaboratively, with artists including Joe Furlonger. A new suite of works, currently on show at Defiance Gallery, metabolises formal interests as diverse as figuration, landscape, and Abstract Expressionist painting, and works through this admixture to a hard, expressive clarity, reflective of a painter going from strength to strength almost sixty years into her career. 

Thomson is well decorated, having won a number of prizes including the Wynne in 1988, the 2005 Kedumba Drawing Prize, and the 2002 Geelong Contemporary Art Prize. These newest paintings attest to both the breadth and unity of the practice that has led to this widespread recognition. The ‘Prelude’ series engages most directly with figuration, working in some sense as a set of character studies – but, perhaps, of character tropes, types, or imaginings, rather than studies of particular, singular, individuals. That is to say, there is something mythic to Thomson’s portraits here. Elsewhere, works such as Minnie Water modulate between the poles of landscape and abstraction. Thomson has commented that, when she paints landscapes, she is not just painting any one spot in the world: ‘to paint a specific subject is just not my way of working. I have to be more open.’ Minnie Water confirms this statement – it is a canvas as expressive of the phenomenon of being in nature, and the work of memory, as it is of what we remember and experience phenomenologically. 

These new works polish down Thomson’s long-developed practice to a degree of expressive, exploratory power which resists – indeed, defies – categorisation. 

Ann Thomson: Osmosis
26 May – 17 June 2021
Defiance Gallery, Sydney

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