John Thomson - Associate Senior Lecturer in Visual Arts - from 1993-2008
Say it with Flowers
Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford 2007
This exhibition consisted of a selection of preparatory sketches and small-scale sculptures produced during a yearlong residency at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden September 2004 to October 2005 (see below). The research that underpinned the work was based on investigations into natural organisms using visual art methods. During my residency I had access to 4,756 species of plants in order to classify and document many of them. In contrast to a scientist who is bound by empirical reason, I used associative methodologies to re-create and re-structure what I observed. As a result many of the drawings evoke imaginative relationships between the plants that I studied and aspects of contemporary culture. Some of the drawings are quasi-scientific, whilst others appear like comic strips that pursue connections between nature and popular culture. A related exhibition was held at the Oxford Museum of Natural History under the title 'Disney Meets DNA'. The exhibition contained research material consisting of sketches, formal drawings, photography and small sculptures. At OUBG I carried out my research in a 'red shed' studio, which I designed, built and located in one of the Garden areas. Throughout the residency I had access to the horticultural staff, various archives and the botanic and library facilities. Important contacts were made within the Plant Science department of the University, which allowed access to the Herbarium and Library and dialogue with both national and international research teams.
Residency and Exhibition of drawings, paintings & sculpture
Oxford University Botanic Gardens and Oxford University Museum of Natural History 2006
For over a decade I have been developing a research strategy that has involved working with various botanic institutions in order to investigate nature through art practice. In addition to the practice itself I am also using this strategy to develop locations in which art can be viewed beyond the context of the museum or the gallery. In this context the curator of the Oxford University Botanic Garden (OUBG) invited me to be artist-in-residence for twelve months between September 2004 and October 2005. I used this opportunity to built on the experience of a previous residency at Hilliers Research Aboretum, Hampshire, which was organised as part of the Arts Council funded Year of the Artist (June 2000 to May 2001). Project-related workshops were run with the staff and students from Southampton Solent University that resulted in exhibitions at Southampton General Hospital and the Test Valley Borough Council offices in Andover. My relationship with Hilliers Arboretum has developed into regular student workshops where I act as advisor on art projects. A concrete outcome of this development is a new children's garden at Hilliers Aboretum, which included large-scale sculptures by graduates of Southampton Solent University. David Attenborough officially opened this initiative in 2006.
Littlehampton, West Sussex 2004
River Circle is a commissioned sculpture located on the River Arun. The research that underpinned it involved investigative studies of marine life in the fresh and estuarine waters in this area. The commission resulted from a government initiative to revitalise a former industrial site on the banks of the River Arun, at the point where it enters the sea at Littlehampton, West Sussex. The sculpture forms the central focus of a new square, which is part of a development that has preserved the historic buildings as well as providing new housing, a Youth Hostel and a Sea Life Centre, thereby contributing to the regeneration and economic life of Littlehampton. Together with the funding bodies SEEDA and Bellways Homes, Arun District Council ran a nationally advertised competition. I submitted a detailed proposal and maquette with associated drawings, which was selected by both the panel and local community via an exhibition of short-listed candidates. Research for the imagery was undertaken in collaboration with local and national experts in the field. The sculpture was fabricated at MJF Precision Engineering in Southampton using a 316L stainless steel, which is specified for marine and hostile environments. Structural calculations were supplied by Fast Calc of Portsmouth. Research into non-traditional sculptural materials and processes is part and parcel of my ongoing involvement in public sculpture. A series of workshops with local youth groups provided the imagery for a number of permanently installed metal panels located adjacent to the main sculpture, as well as a number of large scale printed banners for a local community centre. This part of the project was designed to inform and give 'ownership' of the work to the local community. I also gave public lectures that provided an insight into technical and aesthetic aspects of the project.
Drawings, Daydreams and Designs
Solo Survey Exhibition
New Greenham Arts, Newbury 2003
This exhibition focused on my public and private commissions. It included initial sketches, maquettes, photography, engineering calculations and CAD drawings for the laser cutting of steel for a range of large and small-scale sculptural projects. The creative-collaborative process entered into with both design professionals and government and research agencies was clearly evident in the range of drawing, models and textual material in the exhibition. Projects covered by this exhibition were The Healing Tree 2001, River Skerne Footbridge 1997, and the Warmley Brook Footbridge1996. The Healing Tree is a courtyard-screening feature designed for the Clinical Research Facility, Southampton General Hospital and commissioned by the Wellcome Trust in collaboration with Southampton University. Darlington Borough Council commissioned The River Skerne Footbridge on the occasion of a river restoration project. Collaborators the E.U. LIFE Programme, the Environment Agency English Nature, the Countryside Commission, and Gibbons Structural Engineers, Durham. The Warmley Brook Footbridge, North Bristol, was constructed as part of the Bath/Bristol route for pedestrians and cyclists. It was commissioned by Sustrans (specialists in cycle paths) and South Gloucester County Council. Collaborators included the Landscaping and Structural Engineering Department of the South Gloucester County Council, Harrisons Industrial Engineering & Fabrication and Portsmouth City Council.