Peter Thompson

Ceramics and the Source of Self

11 Dec 2021 –
6 Mar 2022

Peter Thompson is an experimenter and innovator, a ceramicist whose functional ware, sculptural vessels and figurative sculptures incorporate local raw materials sourced from Kuranda in the hinterland of Cairns. Whether utilitarian or decorative each of his works demonstrates a depth of consideration for form, function, and historical precedents.

Over a period spanning almost five decades, Thompson has created a remarkable body of work that sits at the cutting edge of contemporary Australian ceramics. He has been described as a ‘bare foot philosopher, a passionate scholar, and a witty social commentator, not shy to confront, amuse or make one pause in contemplation’.

Born in 1945, Thompson grew up in Sydney before moving to the tropical rainforests of far north Queensland in 1976. His intimate connection with the elements and his love for nature are evident in all aspects of his life and works. He studied ceramics at the National Art School in Sydney before completing a Graduate Diploma at Monash University. In 1995 he studied at Nanjing University where he had access to some of the finest forms of high fired porcelain that was invented over three thousand years ago. All these experiences combined his innate quest for exploring abstracted form and line with themes based on both Occidental and Oriental historical roots. 

In his writings about the life and work of Peter Thompson, Ian Whittaker describes ‘Five Treasures’, the pottery workshop Thompson built in Kuranda, which was inspired by the five elements of Taoist philosophy – earth, wind, fire, water and the void. Whittaker comments that the luscious rainforest setting was a place in which Thompson could ‘indulge his enthusiasm for native fauna and flora, while having space to experiment with kiln designs and firing techniques. Above all else it allowed him to live a reclusive lifestyle where he could focus on philosophy and creativity’. 

The result, says Whittaker, has been a prolific output of pots, figurines, sculpture and artefacts that draw strongly on a range of important international traditions, but which are reframed as unique, very contemporary and very Australian.

Image: Peter Thompson, Forme Tao Ci En Bor De Mer, c.1990-2010

Peter Thompson List of Works


Cairns Art Gallery is housed in a Queensland Government Heritage building and will be following all Queensland Government mandates in regards to visitor restrictions.

At 80% double-dose vaccination, visitors aged 16 years and over will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or valid medical exemption to enter the Gallery, in line with the Chief Health Officer’s Directions. 

From 17 December 2021, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required to enter the Gallery.

The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji and Yirrganydji as the Traditional Owners of the area today known as Cairns. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.