What do we actually see and experience when we look at painting? This question appears as central to David Thomas’s 40-year art practice, with the dual acts of creating and observing underlying much of the artist’s thought. Now a new retrospective exhibition, David Thomas: Colouring Impermanence at RMIT Design Hub, aims to bring attention to empathic observations by ‘looking at the act of looking’.
Featuring over 100 of the artist’s works from the last four decades, the show includes installations, paintings, photo-paintings and large-scale works. Spanning two inter-connected spaces, the exhibition brings together pieces from Thomas’s archive alongside newly created large-scale works, the later of which were crafted in response to Design Hub.
In between the two main rooms sits the ‘mobile monochrome’ series Taking A Line For A Walk, which provides a humourous contemplation on our own mortality. Intense monochromic colours ignite most of the exhibition, bringing attention not merely to the paintings and installations, but the space around the works as well.
The notion of ‘attentive looking’ fuels the show, prompting viewers to consider how they experience painting. Time is key to this exploration and Thomas aims to transform duration into something as material as a brush stroke; time is something we can see and grasp.
As the artist says, “The works enable the viewer to understand the movement of meaning over time and to contemplate the transitory, unstable nature of being and perceiving.” Of course there is a humourous futility to Thomas’s work, which is implied by the show’s very title, Colouring Impermanence.
Yet above all Thomas believes the experience of painting is ultimately an empathic experience, conjured through the sense of touch. “Painting offers an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of our responses; emotional and conceptual; imaginative and tactile; via image and materiality in time,” says Thomas. “In the act of painting you feel; thought, touch and emotion are connected.”
The exhibition further recognises the importance of teaching to Thomas’ practice (he’s also a lecturer in Fine Art at RMIT) by running a free eight-week course. The series of art lessons will be taught by Thomas, with participants able to experiment with drawing, painting and photography.
David Thomas: Colouring Impermanence
RMIT Design Hub
28 July – 23 September