Elizabeth Thomson’s current exhibition at Two Rooms, Body of the Sentient, features a series of five works that meditate on the power, fragility and transcendent beauty of oceanic depths. In each case, a seamless expanse of blue encases the canvas, extending out beyond the physical confines of the work and into the viewer’s space. There is a depth and luminosity to these pieces, as Thomson presents us with an array of subtle and elusive tonalities, tenors, hues and shades. They conjure the infinite blue of an unblemished, cloudless sky, the recesses of a cold clear lake, and the shivering expanse of a river. Above all though, it is the blue of the ocean, the plunging bottomless depths of the sea. Through them all there is a sense of wonderment about the sea – its ethereal and changeable qualities, its beguiling serenity.
In 2011, Thomson was one of nine artists chosen to travel to the remote, unpopulated, and pristine Kermadec region of New Zealand. Voyaging aboard the HMNZS Otago, the boat abruptly stopped on the Tropic of Capricorn, and, following ocean protocol, the call “Hands to bathe” prompted sailors and passengers to dive overboard. This area of ocean encompasses the Kermadec Trench – the second deepest waters on earth reaching staggering depths of 10,000 metres – an emotive and unparalleled marine sanctuary. As Thomson recalls, the “mid-ocean immersion” was “a sublime experience” that led her to “think about how I could spend a lifetime exploring that astounding intensity of colour; different tonal densities and colour fields.” It had a formative effect on her approach to the metaphysical, and on her artistic output. As fellow traveller and poet Gregory O’Brien writes, “how, then, has she managed to compress a sense of the mind-boggling Kermadec region—640,000 square km of a proposed marine sanctuary—into five square panels. Firstly, I think of how you or I might place a photo of a loved one in a locket so as to hold someone to our hearts. There is something of that kind of reduction and compression in Thomson’s works. She has created for us a miniature. The panels in ‘Body of the Sentient’ are a token or keepsake of an infinitely larger reality.”
The work of Elizabeth Thomson (born in Auckland, 1956) has an extensive exhibition history in New Zealand. Her practice often engages with the Pacific region, being informed by her time on Christmas Island and the Kermadecs. Thomson’s work also has strong connections with biology and physics, and in 2006 -7 she was the subject of a major survey exhibition “Elizabeth Thomson: My Hi-Fi My Sci-Fi” that toured nationally. Most recently, Thomson’s work has been included in the Kermadec exhibition, which has been shown across New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and parts of the Pacific to critical acclaim.