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Observatory Hill (The Rocks)

Ann Thomson

  • This event finished on 03 March 2024

2 January – 3 March 2024

Physical exuberance is innate to her, and it is expressed more strongly than ever in her recent work.  Her feeling for pulse and rhythm, for irrepressible physical energies projected into space, imbues her pictorial conceptions with a great vivacity.”
Terence Maloon, curator

Ann Thomson, is a major survey exhibition of one of Sydney’s most important artists, curated by Terence Maloon, former Director of the Drill Hall Gallery, and comprises key works created over the past two decades.


Born in Queensland in 1933, the daughter of a prominent Brisbane bookseller, she was genteelly brought up but was given plenty of leeway to express her natural physical exuberance. At her school, Somerville House, all of her art teachers (Caroline Barker, Patricia Prentice, June Meek, Betty Churcher) were practicing artists; they not only stood as role models for their young pupil, they recognised Ann’s talent and encouraged her to consider art as her life’s pursuit.


In Anna Johnson’s 2012 monograph on Ann Thomson there is a photograph of the teenaged Ann leaping down the side of a sand dune – an image that reveals the high-spiritedness of her character. Such physical vigour has come to define her painting idiom, an idiom that has never stood still, never lost its momentum or intensity, and has grown more robust and fearless with the passing years.


The French painter Jean Bazaine believed that painters were born old and only achieved the quality of youthfulness as a reward for the devotion of their labours: “Youthfulness in painting is slowly attained. It is granted as a reward to the old-timers who merit it. You need to drink long and deeply of the milk of life before it starts to go to your head” (quote from Le temps de la peinture).

Ann Thomson’s extraordinary achievement over the last decade and a half is to “lose herself in the throes of creation”, however she also manages to regain and to re-impose her composure and clarity quite infallibly, seeming to land true every time, apparently with the minimum of struggle and effort. “Painting is composition”, she says matter-of-factly, and what we witness in her work is composing-in-action performed by an inveterate and virtuosic improviser. She would certainly qualify as a young artist according to Bazaine’s criteria. In fact it was around 2008 that one began to notice the signs of change taking place in her work, which was growing wilder, freer and stronger. Not just that: these paintings were resoundingly well resolved and unified, impressive not only in their bursting vigour, but in their abundant surprise and delight. According to special guest curator Terence Maloon, Ann’s paintings are younger than ever.  This survey exhibition will present works that convey her feeling of pulse and rhythm, for dynamic energy unleashed into space, alongside key antecedent works that show its genesis.

Special guest curator: Terence Maloon.

A comprehensive catalogue with essays by Terence Maloon and Joanna Capon is available.

The exhibition is presented in association with Defiance Gallery, Sydney and will tour to Orange Regional Gallery in late 2024.


John McDonald – Risks and rewards in two impressive new exhibitions to see this weekend – The Sydney Morning Herald 3 February 2024

Elizabeth Fortescue – Artist Ann Thomson, 90, celebrated in her ‘butterfly moment’- Australian Financial Review 5 January 2024


Since graduating from the National Art School in 1962 she has held countless solo and group exhibitions throughout Australia and overseas. Thomson has won a number of prizes, including the 1998 Wynne Prize, 2005 Kedumba Drawing Prize and the 2002 Geelong Contemporary Art Prize, and her work is included in many important collections such as Art Gallery of New South Wales, Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid and Villa Haiss Museum, Germany.

image: ANN THOMSON Orion 2014, acrylic on linen 102 x 200 cm Private Collection