Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Ann Thom­son, Change Takes Time (2002). Col­lec­tion Gee­long Gallery. Gee­long Con­tem­po­rary Art Prize, 2002, spon­sored by the Gee­long Art Gallery Foun­da­tion. On dis­play Gee­long Gallery, Vic­to­ria. In 2002, Ja­son Smith was a guest judge of the Gee­long Con­tem­po­rary Art Prize and his task was to sift through the many en­tries from across Aus­tralia, New Zealand, even Rus­sia, Bri­tain and the US. He was on the look­out for a win­ner and, among the en­tries, one richly tex­tured paint­ing stood out. He says it was so com­pelling he gave it the first prize of $25,000.

At the time, Smith was the cu­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary art at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria. And the com­pelling prize-win­ning work that caught his eye? It was Ann Thom­son’s Change Takes Time. When Thom­son’s paint­ing won the prize, it was ac­quired by the Gee­long Gallery and now, 14 years later, Smith has just been ap­pointed the gallery’s direc­tor.

Change Takes Time strikes you with the bravura han­dling of the paint. With its broad, con­fi­dent ges­tures, it gives the im­pres­sion of be­ing freshly painted. The com­po­si­tion is har­mo­nious with its use of earthy si­en­nas, ochres and pale blue.

“What I found com­pelling then and en­dur­ingly con­vinc­ing now is the sim­ply beau­ti­ful pic­to­rial and spa­tial or­gan­i­sa­tion of this pic­ture,” Smith says. “It is easy to think that a work of such en­er­gised painterly ab­strac­tion might hap­pen quickly and with ut­ter spon­tane­ity. Ann’s work is deeply con­sid­ered, and one of the things that con­tin­ues to in­trigue me about this work is that ev­ery mark and pas­sage of paint is bound to the other in a pic­ture of ex­cep­tional struc­ture and com­po­si­tional bal­ance. If we took just one el­e­ment of this work away the en­tire pic­ture would fall apart.”

Smith says he has al­ways loved Thom­son’s sen­si­tive but con­fi­dent touch. “Her pic­tures are ro­bust but they have never been bom­bas­tic. There is some­thing poignant in the ti­tle Change Takes Time. It sig­nals an artist thank­ful for her aes­thetic and con­cep­tual metier but com­pelled by in­quis­i­tive­ness and the end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties in pic­ture mak­ing.”

Thom­son was born in Bris­bane in 1933. She once told an in­ter­viewer that she dis­cov­ered paint­ing at the age of nine. “I felt as if it was in me,” she said, “and that it would be very un­kind, to my in­ner pos­si­bil­ity, to ig­nore it.” Grow­ing up in Bris­bane, she of­ten dis­ap­peared un­der the house to “make things”. She cut up mag­a­zines for col­lage, made clay ob­jects and con­structed mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. When her mum called her for lunch, she would re­ply that she was too busy.

Af­ter leav­ing school, she stud­ied with Jon Molvig in the mid-1950s. She then left Bris­bane for Syd­ney to en­rol at the East Syd­ney Tech­ni­cal College (now the Na­tional Art School) where she met artists such as Colin Lance­ley and Martin Sharp and top-notch teach­ers John Pass­more and God­frey Miller. Once she grad­u­ated, she stayed liv­ing and work­ing in Syd­ney.

Thom­son, now in her 80s, has been ex­hibit­ing for more than 50 years, since her first solo ex­hi­bi­tion at Wat­ters Gallery in 1965. Since then, she has won the re­spected Wynne Prize and con­tin­ues to ex­hibit widely in Aus­tralia and in Paris. Ear­lier this year she had an ex­hi­bi­tion at her alma mater that cel­e­brated the time she at­tended the Na­tional Art School dur­ing the late 50s and early 60s.

While Thom­son was study­ing at art school Amer­i­can ex­pres­sion­ism was in vogue and, she has said, she was very close to this be­cause ab­strac­tion was more rel­e­vant to her way of think­ing than copy­ing na­ture.

“Ann Thom­son’s ca­reer is dis­tin­guished by a com­mit­ment to ab­stract pic­tures,” says Smith, “pic­tures that are si­mul­ta­ne­ously tough but lyri­cal in their evo­ca­tion of land­scape, air, wa­ter, myth and mys­tery.”

Oil on can­vas, 137.5cm x 101.6cm

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