Overview

Elizabeth Thomson (b.1955) travelled extensively before enrolling at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland in 1982, where she studied printmaking while also pursuing her interest in sculpture. She was recipient of the Elam Scholarship in 1985, the Joe Raynes Scholarship and graduated with Master of Fine Arts with First Class Honours in 1988. Thomson has received a number of grants and awards and her work is held in a number of public collections. She has taught courses in a variety of media at several institutions. In addition to her gallery exhibitions Thomson has undertaken numerous commissions for site specific works. Thomson lives in Wellington where she works as a full-time artist.

 

Working at the interface between art and various forms of natural science, Elizabeth Thomson can, at times, be described as a surrealist – at other times she is a detached observer/investigator of the arcane and the remote.

 

Drawing on the abstract language of music, philosophy and mathematics, Thomson’s art is also shaped by the material world in which she finds herself. When the glass-bead surface of one of her works glistens, the effect is somewhere between a morning garden covered in dew, the static on a television screen and a visualisation of Pythagoras’s notion of celestial harmony. Such is the ambiguous, paradoxical poetry of these works. Elizabeth Thomson locates her work on the boundary between the known and the unknowable, the beautiful and the uncomfortable. Pushing the notion of the ‘beautiful’ into new territories, Thomson’s work can be said to contain a difficult beauty.

 

Playing off delicacy with an at time harsh and alienating aesthetic, the works perplex as much as they beguile. The lyricism of her forms and arrangements is often counterbalanced by an element of the Gothic; sumptuousness is played off against austerity.

 

While Thomson’s dizzying perspectives and optically challenging orchestrations make us aware of the limits of both eye and rational mind, the alluring and at time perplexing surfaces of her work take us into a tactile, sensual world of roughness and smoothness, hardness and softness, opacity and translucence. The materials she uses, which include hand-formed glass, bronze, zinc, beading and fibreglass, attain new and often surprising nuances of meaning and association, hinting at emotional states as well as referencing the forms and processes of landscape, entomology and botany.

 

Her work is also rich in layers of cultural history, engaging with a myriad of sources, from elaborate vestments and religious iconography to the patterning on traditional kimono, from the form gardens of Europe to the mandala forms of Eastern spirituality.

 

The orderliness and the disorderliness of Nature was a central theme in the major touring survey exhibition ‘Elizabeth Thomson – My Hi-Fi My Sci-Fi,’ which was originated by the City Gallery Wellington in 2006 and subsequently toured nationally.

 

While Thomson’s wall-sculptures are meticulous, ‘high fidelity’ productions, her art also reflects a fascination with the ruptures, disjunctions and absurdities of the natural world – hence the element of science fiction, or ‘sci-fi,’ which is never far from the surface.

 

On the boundary between two- and three-dimensionality, Elizabeth Thomson’s works occupy both wall and airspace. Balancing observation and imagination, organisation and invention, order and adventure, her art is an eloquent exploration of both a state of mind and the state of the world we inhabit.

 

Meticulous, and audacious, by equal measure, sculptor Elizabeth Thomson’s work suggests the role of the artist might also by that of botanist, mathematician, aviator, micro-biologist and teller of tall tales.

 

– Gregory O’Brien

Exhibitions
Works
Biography

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2020

ELIZABETH THOMSON - CELLULAR MEMORY: A Survey Exhibition 1989-2017, Th e Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand

2018

Elizabeth Thomson: The Greening of New Blueland, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua, New Zealand

2017

ELIZABETH THOMSON - CELLULAR MEMORY: A Survey Exhibition 1989-2017, Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History, Masterton, New Zealand

The Black-and Whites, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Invitation to openness, Two Rooms, Auckland, New Zealand

2015
Between Memory and Oblivion, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Body of the Sentient, Two Rooms, Auckland, New Zealand

2014
HANENE - Breathing Gently, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Invitation to Openness - Substantive and Transitive States, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Transitive States, Two Rooms, Auckland, New Zealand
Voyage Sauvage, Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney, Australia
Elysian Fields, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua, New Zealand

2013
Elizabeth Thomson: Transitive States, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua

2012
The Ocean of Eden, Two Rooms, Auckland
Over and Above, Black Barn Gallery, Havelock North
Islands of Dodonaea, RH Gallery, Upper Moutere, Nelson

2011
Colour/Field, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington

2010
Another Green World, Tauranga Art Gallery, Tauranga

2009
Le Planete Sauvage, Two Rooms, Auckland
Tonight in the Mystic Garden, Black Barn Gallery, Havelock North

2008
Astrophysics and the Thomson Effect, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington
Supposition, Two Rooms, Auckland
Horoeka, RH Gallery, Upper Moutere, Nelson

2007
Relativity and the Fourth Dimension, Mark Hutchins, Wellington
Studies for the Bigger Picture, Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland
Elizabeth Thomson - my hi-fi my sci-fi, Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton; Te Tuhi - Centre for the Arts, Auckland; Rotorua Museum of Art and History, Rotorua; Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin

2006
Interference, Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland
Elizabeth Thomson - my hi-fi my sci-fi, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington
Mondo Tondo, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington
A Night and a Day, Nadene Milne Gallery, Arrowtown

2005
The Black and Whites, Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland
Aerial, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington

2004
Love Me Tender, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington
Aviatrix, Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland

2003
My Hi Fi, My Sci Fi, Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland
Horoeka and Antequera: Observations on Home and Abroad, Michael Hirschfeld Gallery, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington

2002
Horoeka and Antequera, Anna Bibby Gallery Auckland

1999 - 2000
Naenae Parterre: A Garden of Optics from the Intermillenium Series (1991-1996), Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt

1997 - 1998
Fringe of Heaven: Ten Year Survey, Lopdell House Gallery, Auckland

1997
Purple Parterre, Artis Gallery, Auckland
Paraterre, Brooker Gallery, Wellington

1996
Elizabeth Thomson: Collected Works 1986-1996, Hawke's Bay Exhibition Centre
Waking Up Slowly, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland
From the Natural Abstraction Series 1991-1996, Fox Gallery, Auckland

1995
Sensillae, Jensen Gallery, Wellington

1994
Phantoms of the Night, Te Manawa Museum Gallery Science Centre, Palmerston North

1991
The Winged and the Wingless, Fox Gallery, Auckland
Denizens of the Deep, window installation, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland

1990
Manukau Heads, Lopdell House Gallery, Auckland
The Winged and the Wingless, Catherine Scollay Gallery, Wellington

1989
The Fearless Five Hundred, Fox Gallery, Auckland

1988
Natural Aspects, George Fraser Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland

1987
Emerging Artists Series, Govett-Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
New Zealand Print Survey, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington
New Work: Etchings and Bronze, Southern Cross Gallery, Wellington

1986
Etchings, Southern Cross Gallery Wellington

 

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2015
Kermadec: 9 Artists from the South Pacific, Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Noumea, New Caledonia

2014
Editions, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2013
Kermadec, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Santiago, Chile
Kermadec: Lines in the Ocean, Hastings City Art Gallery, Hastings, New Zealand

2012
Kermadec, Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, Auckland, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand; New Zealand High Commission, Nuku'alofa, Tonga; Rapa Nui, Easter Island
Transitive States, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2011
Not Far From Home: Gretchen Albrecht and Elizabeth Thomson, Nadene Milne Gallery, Arrowtown, New Zealand
Kermadec, Tauranga Art Gallery, Tauranga, New Zealand
Mystic Garden - Elizabeth Thomson and Megan Jenkinson, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Call Waiting - A Celebration of the New Gallery 1995-2011, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Chroma, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2010
Elizabeth Thomson, John Reynolds, Darren George, RH Art Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand
Islandsong, Nadene Milne Gallery, Arrowtown, New Zealand

2009
2 + 2 - A Dialogue: Geoff Thornley, Elizabeth Thomson, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Fixated: Photography Through History, Puke Ariki, New Plymouth, New Zealand
Secondary Practice, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
… And Light, RH Art Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand
Elizabeth Thomson and Russell Moses, Nadene Milne Gallery, Arrowtown, New Zealand
Isolation, Illumination and Intimacy, RH Art Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand

2008
He Korowai o te Wai: The Mantle of Water, Rotorua Museum of Art and History, Rotorua, New Zealand
Cross Talk, Two Rooms Gallery, Auckland

2007
Significant Other, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington
Group Show, Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland

2005
Winter 05, Ngaumatau Gallery, Arrowtown
Ties that Bind, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington
Maquette 05: Small studies and works on paper, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington

2004
Opening Exhibition, Mark Hutchins Gallery, Wellington
Landscape: 7 New Zealand Artists, Anna Bibby Gallery Auckland
Opening Exhibition, Centre of Contemporary Art, Cairns, Australia
Project 04 Contemporary New Zealand Sculpture, Webb's, Auckland

2003
Opening Exhibition, Black Barn Gallery, Havelock North

2002 - 2003
Conversation Pieces: Collaborative Works, Michael Hirschfeld Gallery, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington

2002
Red, Black, White, Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland
Recent Contemporary Acquisitions, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland
Botanica, Gus Fisher Gallery, University of Auckland, Auckland

2001
Botanica, Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington
The Fourth Perspective: New furniture from collaborations with other artists, Judith Anderson Gallery, Auckland

1997
Leading Lights, Artis Gallery Auckland
Elizabeth Thomson: Gerda Leenards, Wellington Maritime Museum

1994
Elizabeth Thomson and Anne Noble, Janne Land Gallery, Wellington
The Nature of Things: Contemporary still life, Artis Gallery, Auckland
Barbeque at the Corral, ASA Gallery, Auckland

1993
X7 Artists Multiples, ASA Gallery, Auckland

1992
Sacred Way, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington
Distance Looks our Ways, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington; Auckland City Gallery, Auckland; Stelling Gallery, Leiden, the Netherlands; International Pavilion, Fabellon de las Arte Expo, Seville, Spain

1990
Distance Looks Our Way, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui
Home Made Home, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington
Heart + Land: Contemporary Works on Paper from Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Art Directors Council (toured regional Australian galleries)
Made in Metal: Touring 10 Women Sculptors, Waikato Museum of Art and History, Hamilton; Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North; Hawke's Bay Art Gallery & Museum, Napier
Prints Exponents: Travelling Exhibition of Contemporary New Zealand Prints, ASA Gallery, Auckland; ASA Gallery, Christchurch; Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin
Art on Architecture on Art, Fox Gallery, Auckland
Review 90: Survey of Recent Works by Auckland Artists, Te Tuhi, Auckland

1988
Young Artists: Elizabeth Thomson, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth
Fact and Desire, Real Pictures, Auckland
Photographs and Extensions of the Photograph, Southern Cross Gallery Wellington
Contemporary New Zealand Art from the Permanent Collection of the Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland City Art Gallery, Auckland
Fremantle Print Award Exhibition, Fremantle, Australia
10th Anniversary of Portfolio Gallery: Contemporary New Zealand Printmakers, Auckland

1987
Seven Artists, Roz MacAllan Gallery, Brisbane
International Black and White Print Exhibition, Portfolio Gallery, Auckland
Young Contemporaries Exhibition, CSA Gallery, Christchurch
Elizabeth Thomson, Peter Ransom: 1987 Print Series, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington

1986
Ninth International Print Biennale, Cartwright Hall, Bradford, England; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England

1983
New Energy in Bronze, Denis Cohn Gallery, Auckland

 

SELECTED COLLECTIONS

The High Court, Wellington
The University of Auckland, Auckland
UNITEC Institute of Technology, Auckland,
Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland
James Wallace Trust
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, Wellington
The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Logan College, Queensland, Australia
Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Australia
Department of Conservation
Ministry of Forestry
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia
National Bank of New Zealand
Te Manawa Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Massey University, Palmerston North
Johnson's Wax Collection, United States of America
Westpac, New Zealand
Chapman Tripp, Wellington
Rutherford Trust, Wellington

Bibliography

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Mark Amery, “Elizabeth Thomson, My Hi Fi My Sci Fi,” Dominion Post, 21 July 2006
―, “Elizabeth Thomson, My Hi Fi My Sci Fi,” The lumiere reader, 11 August 2006
―, “Going Public,” Dominion Post, 27 June 2003
―, “My artist, my friend,” Dominion Post, 21 May 2004
―, ‘Poetic and powerful art,” Dominion Post, 27 November 2013
Warwick Brown, One hundred New Zealand artists (Auckland: Godwit Publishing, 1996)
Tom Cardy, “Artist turning over a new leaf,” Dominion Post, 27 June 2003
Elizabeth Caughey (ed.), “Elizabeth Thomson,” Contemporary New Zealand artists 4 (Auckland: David Bateman, 2005), pp. 64-66
Shelly Clement, “Aerial perspective” Urbis Landscapes, volume 8, May/July 2006, pp. 26-30
Katy Corner, “Wellington,” Art News, Summer 2005, p. 27.
―, “New Zealand review – Sense on high alert, Elizabeth Thomson,” Australian Art Review, volume 12, 2006
Michael Dunn, New Zealand sculpture: A history (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002)
Bruce Foster, “Kermadec: Reflections on a voyage – Elizabeth Thomson on Vimeo,” Vimeo, vimeo.com/33616083, 13 December 2011
Susan Foster, “Wellington,” Art New Zealand, volume 44, Spring 1987, pp. 49-50
Louise Garrett, “Wellington,” Art New Zealand, volume 83, Winter 1997, p. 35
―, “Commissioned art work for Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth,” Art New Zealand, volume 46, p. 44
Bronwen Golder and Gregory O’Brien, Kermadec: Nine artist explore the South Pacific (Pew Environment Group, 2011)
Ruth Harvey, “Immersion: A conversation with Elizabeth Thomson,” Art New Zealand, volume 143, Winter, 2012, pp. 30-38
―, “The Dynamics of difference: Photography’s influence on the work of Elizabeth Thomson,” Art New Zealand, volume 124, Spring 2007, pp. 50-53
Aaron Lister, Colour/Field, exhibition catalogue (Wellington: City Gallery Wellington, 2011)
Jill McIntosh (ed.), Contemporary New Zealand prints (Wellington: Allen and Unwin and Port Nicholson Press, 1989)
T. J. McNamara, “Visual arts,” New Zealand Herald, 17 May 2006
―, “Beauty of the commonplace,” New Zealand Herald, 17 July 2003
―, “From the scant to the generous,” New Zealand Herald, 30 September 2002
Anna Miles, Elizabeth Thomson: Collected works 1986-1996, exhibition catalogue (Hastings: Hawke’s Bay Exhibition Centre, 1996)
―, Waking Up Slowly, exhibition catalogue (Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery, 1996)
Ninth British international print biennale, Bradford, England, exhibition catalogue (Bradford: Bradford Art Galleries and Museums, 1986)
Gregory O’Brien (ed.), Elizabeth Thomson – my hi-fi my sci-fi (Wellington: City Gallery Wellington, 2006)
Justin Paton, “Hushed, frail and uncannily serene,” New Zealand Herald, 17 September 1996
―, “Rogue Mutations,” New Zealand Listener, 14 February 1998, pp. 42-43
Jennifer Phipps and Linda Tyler, Heart + Land: Contemporary works on paper from Aotearoa New Zealand, exhibition catalogue (Wellington: New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Council, 1980)
Keith Stewart, “Creative tension derived through visual paradox,” Sunday Star Times, 14 December 1997
―, “Heaven reveals artist’s world,” Sunday Star Times, 1 February 1998, p. 5
Bridget Sutherland, “The Fearless Five Hundred: The world of Elizabeth Thomson,” Art New Zealand, volume 57, Summer 1990-91, pp. 54-57
―, “Elizabeth Thomson: The owl, the ghost and the moon,” in Mary Barr (ed.), Distance looks our way: 10 artists from New Zealand (Wellington: Distance looks our way trust, 1992), pp. 103-109
Elizabeth Thomson, “Elizabeth Thomson,” The Kermadecs, http://www.thekermadecs.org/elizabeth-thomson
Peter Webb Galleries, Project 04 contemporary New Zealand sculpture, exhibition catalogue (Auckland: Peter Webb Galleries, 2004)
Ian Wedde, “Prints that buckle,” Evening Post, 11 November 1987
―, “Nature’s volume: Elizabeth Thomson and the organisation of the world,” New Zealand Listener, 17 June 2006, pp. 38-40
Virginia Were, “When one is not enough,” Art News New Zealand, Summer 2006
―, “Into the wild,” Art News New Zealand, Winter 2003, pp. 54-57
―, “Shifting Truth,” Art News New Zealand, Summer 1998, p. 21

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