The French poet Paul Valery recognised that the flower - along with the crystal and shell- stood out from 'the usual disorder that characterises most perceptible things. They are privileged forms that are more intelligible for the eye, even though more mysterious for the mind, than all the others we see distinctly'. A large-scale assemblage of such 'privileged forms', Casa Pintoresca, was inspired by the arabesque tiling in Middle Eastern architecture. Thomson also sources the patterning in this work to the vestments worn by the Catholic clergy and architectural decorations at Alhambra - which merge Spanish and Moorish influences. Her flower- forms also echo the mandalas of both Buddhist and Hindu tradition, in which the opened-out lotus symbolises enlightenment.Thomson's plantations of leaves and flowers find themselves similarly at home in various orderly 'gardens' of the interior, echoing the designs of domestic wallpaper and the stylised patterning which engulfs the folio of fine press publications such as the 1896 Kelmscott Press edition of Chaucer. Lifted from the realms of natural science, Thomson's individual forms have, like the Kelmscott decorations, been planted in a garden or province of the human mind. And it is this unfolding activity of mind and eye which we experience, played out on the whiteness of a gallery wall which attains, for a time, the stillness of a blank page, a tabula rasa*, a whited-out sky above Mt Taranaki, or a frozen pond.
Gregory O'Brien My Hi Fi, My Sci Fi - Elizabeth Thomson
Wellington City Gallery 2006
*tabula rasa - a theory that at birth the (human) mind is a 'blank slate' without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one's sensory experiences.