Isobel Thom: ILK

7 November 2015 – 14 January 2017
Opening Saturday 5 November, 2:30pm

Malcolm Smith Gallery
35 Uxbridge Road, Howick
Auckland 2014

Isobel Thom is an artist best known for her experimental geometries in painting and ceramics. More recently, the artist has been working incrementally towards ‘the complete artwork’: the design and construction of her own studio and selected objects within. On show at the Malcolm Smith Gallery is the artist’s work in progress. Having purchased a plot of land late 2015 on Lone Kauri Road, Karekare, and with the help of architects James Fenton and Steven Lloyd, the project is now entering the resource consent phase. Isobel aims to begin construction March 2017.

ILK is a three-letter client code invented by architect James Fenton. It stands for ‘Isobel Lone Kauri’ and becomes the title for the studio project and this exhibition. In the context of this exhibition, ILK stands for an integrated vision for art and life, a holistic way of living in which aesthetics is integrated with life’s other actions and activities. Informed by her many years as a painter with an interest in Cubism and 20th-century abstraction, Isobel creates her own ilk of objects to live with. From the hand basin to the rocket stove, plates to the vase, tile cladding to teapots, these objects for practical use express Isobel’s singular artistic sensibility. She creates aesthetic concord and a visually harmonious environment for living and working.

The assortment of objects displayed on the table fall into three categories—household objects, architectural models and tile models.

There is a rocket stove, an energy efficient unit for outdoor cooking with an outer chamber for creating bio-char. There are ‘X’ shaped floor tiles and a small hand basin designed for the lavatory, a prototype that will be scaled up, developed, and mounted as a corner basin. On the dinner plates are drawings of other buildings Isobel has been inspired by, and the selection of teapots and cups represent Isobel’s larger body of ceramic production which have been exhibited widely in Aotearoa New Zealand. A recent addition to this collection of objects is the homespun and hand knitted alpaca tea-cosy made by Isobel’s mother Ellen Thom.

The ceramic architectural models function as Isobel’s working drawings, the artist’s way of figuring things out. From her initial ‘sketches’, we see that Isobel envisaged various forms: an inconspicuous square space with an open roof, a shoe-shaped studio with circular skylights, even a three-pronged structure on stilts. The architects photographed them and then developed plans from the models. These drafts are shown on one side of the gallery’s walls and on the opposite side are photographs of the Karekare bush where the studio will be built.

The tile models are proto-types for problem solving. The studio will be high above the initial vantage point of the driveway, so to maximise visual impact from below, the tiles curve under the belly of the building. The first model is a proto-type of the curve. The second model addresses ventilation. It is the artist’s solution to the problem of trying to fit a square window in the patterned tiled wall. A wooden flap built on the inside will keep out the weather.

The largest work in ILK is the wall with over one thousand handmade ceramic tiles. Overlapping like dragon scales, the tiles act as a rain screen and will form the exterior wall cladding of the studio. This ‘hanging tile’ system or shingle design is common for roofs, but the artist, here, invents her own unique geometric shape for the exterior walls. The tiles adopt a range of tones having been made mostly from recycled clays. Over several months in the artist’s tiny home-studio, they were made by pressing wet clay into an aluminium form and then dried flat to the ‘leather hard’ stage, before being transported to Certec, an industrial ceramics factory in Avondale. At the factory, they were painted with oxides, dried on metal racks and fired in a large gas kiln. The artist will need to create at least 800 more tiles for the construction of her studio.

It gives us, at Malcolm Smith Gallery, great pleasure to be presenting an exhibition at a significant moment in Isobel’s career. We are also delighted to be supporting a major artist from East Auckland to realise a brave new project and share her ideas with our public. At the Gallery, our aim is to explore creative practices that are engaged with contemporary discourses in art and related fields which are reflective of the best in national work. This exhibition, we think, is a fine example of our aims, and as a project that is socially responsive, we hope it adds to the developing appreciation of contemporary art in East Auckland.

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