The paintings of Billie Justice Thomson crackle with nostalgia. A gummy rainbow Killer Python and crumpled packet of Twisties conjure memories of the playground. A bottle of soy sauce, a Cherry Ripe and a packet of mi goreng evoke memories perhaps a little more recent. With her colourful renderings presented simply on stark white backgrounds, the Adelaide artist’s work finds joy in the everyday.
It’s not a surprise to learn that Thomson draws great inspiration from her own life. “It’s kind of like a visual diary of things I enjoy having around me,” she says of her work.
Home is where the art is
In 2016, Thomson returned to her hometown of Adelaide (following a seven-year stint in Melbourne) to raise her family and focus on her art. The city’s influence on her work is apparent in ways both obvious and subtle: there’s a painting of a Coopers beer in her portfolio, and she’s been working with the local wine industry – but she’s also been able to dedicate more time to her practice thanks to the slower pace of life here.
“Making the decision to come back to Adelaide has in some ways made my painting practice easier, logistically and financially,” she says. Cost of living is a positive factor too – it’s allowed her to find a studio she loves and dedicate more time to her art.
The “convenience that Adelaide is sometimes, you know, scrutinised for,” she says – the quiet, the pace – is precisely what drew her back.
While a lot of her work is drawn from her own memories, Thomson says a new wave of inspiration has come from spending time with her toddler – particularly his enjoyment of movies and sugary snacks. “Having a son now reminds me so much of just how much I loved that stuff as a kid,” she says. In celebration of the new Pixar and Disney movie Soul, about a music teacher who travels to another dimension to help him find his passion, we asked Thomson to paint something inspired by her own relationship with Disney and Pixar movies.
It prompted her to think of her relationship with her son and make a piece inspired by a movie they watch together: a painting of Finding Nemo’s titular clownfish. “For this particular project, I’ve thought a lot about the Pixar films we watch together, which is lots of them, because we love them,” she says. “My son is really drawn to animals and I often choose work based on the colours” – which made the orange, white and black clownfish a natural muse. “I love the Australian voices in Nemo too,” she says. “It resonates a lot with me that there’s this nice Australian element.”
Pinning down a memory
Thomson put a lot of thought and research into the work, aiming to capture the iconic cartoon fish in her own style. “I actually didn’t want to recreate Nemo, because I think he has a life of his own,” she says. With texture being such a vital part of her work, she started amassing a huge library of high-definition photographs in order to study every detail of the fish. The final work was created by starting with ink outlines, then building highly pigmented colours up layer by layer.
When Broadsheet speaks to Thomson, she’s just put the finishing touches on the painting. Soon it will hang on her son’s wall. He hasn’t seen it yet, and she’s excited to witness his reaction. “I actually can’t wait,” she says. “I’m stoked with it.” Nemo might not be nostalgic for her son yet, but one day, perhaps, this painting will be.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Disney and Pixar. Disney and Pixar’s Soul is streaming Christmas Day on Disney+.