ELIZABETH THOMSON: MY TITIRANGI YEARS

2 - 25 August 2018

A spiral drive up a conical hill took us to a large Victorian house at the top with crab apple trees and a lawn tennis court. We drove up with bush on both sides, past patches of beautifully mown lawns, one with a fountain, past more bush and beehives. An orchard with pink fleshed apples, and glow worm caves were down the other side on the way home. It was a combination of wilderness and manicured old world charm, childhood magic and adventure. Elsewhere in Titirangi we were aware of the dangers of lurking ‘boogiemen’ and ‘peeping Toms’, and that vicious ex-police dog lying in wait, on our way home from school.

 

                                                                                                                            - Elizabeth Thomson, 2018

 

 

This exhibition stems from Wellington based artist Elizabeth Thomson's recollections of her childhood in Titirangi, where summers were spent in treetops with kereru, swinging on vines, and marveling at the beauty and strangeness of the natural world. Colin McCahon lived down the road and sold paintings on the footpath outside the local coffee bar where artists, poets, playwrights and musicians frequented the folk club downstairs to while away the days and nights.

 

Titirangi is often translated as ‘edge of the sky’ or ‘fringe of heaven’, and these works occupy a similar space, glittering somewhere at the edge of memory. They play upon our desire to make connections between particular images, and the way in which images become imprinted on memory. Most of these works began life as abstracted magnifications of botanical cells, but for Thomson the colour and form of each is evocative of a distinctive time and place. Faded paintings hanging on the living room walls of her family home. Dappled light breaking through a canopy of trees. Diving into deep pools of clear water. Fishing for eels on long lengths of baited string. Getting lost in the bush as night descends. Walking the long road home.

 

Some works appear as aerial views of landscapes, as if the viewer is hovering above the surface of the earth. In others we are so close that the image moves in and out of focus, forms blurring and colours bleeding into one other. Titirangi lends its name to a native shrub with a distinct magenta flower, and here we see traces of purplish hues amid the palette of blue, green, and yellow. Thomson’s parents were both avid gardeners. Her Australian father liked to grow bright exotic plants and flowers in scoria wall gardens and small clearings in the bush.

 

The works are complex in their construction – using cast vinyl film, lacquer, contoured and shaped wood panels. The surface is often then painstakingly and intricately beaded with individual glass spheres, each work requiring an astonishing attention to subtle variations of form and colour. Like memory itself, these works have an elusive quality; light reflects and shifts, causing the surface of the work to change before our eyes.