Peter Thomson: Light Box

Publication: The Times.   
April 2017


The cover of Robert M. Pirsig’s enigmatic and impenetrable 1973 novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance shows a spanner morphing into a flower. Pirsig wrote, ‘The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower.’

One of the paintings by Glasgow based artist, Peter Thomson, born in 1963, also depicts a spanner. It’s a small work, an oil painting on linen, around 20cm square, entitled ‘Multi tool’. The spanner is situated in the foreground, where it casts an equivalent shadow; the style might be described as vaguely ‘post-impressionist,’ as the lines and outlines are ill-defined. There’s no apparent context to the work and we must make our own inferences as to meaning.

Elsewhere, a couple of other similarly modestly-sized oils give more clues to the painter’s intent and intellectual situation. Combing the Hair (after Degas) and Hendricke Bathing (after Rembrandt) situate Thomson’s work as part of a tradition that values depiction, craft, observation and ‘painterliness’. He describes these as ‘tributes’ and ‘cover versions’.

The Japanese painter Hokusai famously elected to depict all things, and this range, intellectual ambition and non-hierarchical approach had a major impact on European painting. Degas was one of those who was profoundly influenced. Such a credo may also apply to Thomson, a gifted craftsman and thoughtful artist, who applies his skills to depicting scrap-yards, workshops, interior spaces, landscape, dismantled TVs, industrial buildings and much more.

In one, from which this show takes its name, he shows an urban scene, at night.  It’s one of many, which are amalgams of reality and imagination. Here, the focus of is an illuminated telephone kiosk. The kiosk occupies the middle ground, off-set to the right of the composition – a bright white light emanates from within, contrasting with the yellow street lights.

Is there something to this work other than mere mimesis, or representation? Thomson is cagey about expressing any religious or spiritual views, but there is a sense, suggested by Pirsig’s interpretation of Buddhism, that he, Thomson, wishes to celebrate the ‘ordinariness’ of all things.