Artwork by Denyse Thomasos,  Untitled, 2012

Denyse Thomasos
Untitled, 2012

acrylic on canvas
titled and dated 2012 on a label on the reverse; unframed
48 x 60 ins ( 121.9 x 152.4 cms )

Auction Estimate: $80,000.00$60,000.00 - $80,000.00

Price Realized $96,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto
Private Colection, New York
“Denyse Thomasos: Just Beyond”, Art Gallery of Toronto; travelling to Remai Modern, Saskatoon and Vancouver Art Gallery, 8 October 2022–March 2023 (included in the AGO exhibition)
Renée van der Avoird, Sally Frater and Michelle Jacques, “Denyse Thomasos: Just Beyond”, Belgium, 2022, listed page 170
Denyse Thomasos was born in Trinidad, moved to Toronto as a child in 1970, and practiced as an artist mostly in New York and Philadelphia. Her importance was well acknowledged during her lifetime (she received the Guggenheim Fellowship Prize in 1997, the Joan Mitchell Foundation award in 1998, and the New York Foundation for the Arts award in 2008, among other accolades), yet her powerful work has also been re–discovered in Canada of late. The Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto presented a memorial exhibition in 2012. She had a posthumous solo exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario in 2021 and was celebrated in “Denyse Thomasos: Just Beyond”, another large retrospective seen at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 2022–23.

The website for the recent AGO exhibition suggested that “Thomasos conveys the vastness of events such as the transatlantic slave trade without exploiting the images of those who were most affected.” Her allusions to slave ships in some works is a case in point, both about the inclusiveness of ‘architecture’ in the form of ships in her painting and the ability to address trauma without replicating its effects through literal representation. Her unique form of abstraction is the key to this fine balance. Thomasos worked across more than the idioms of 20th– and 21st–cenury abstraction, never choosing one authoritative mode or rejecting figuration. Signature architectural elements structure her abstract images, frequently giving them a solidity and sense of deep space. Though not about specific buildings, her work can be thought of as architectonic in the sense that it structures our perception.

Painted in the last year of her tragically short life, in “Untitled”, Thomasos characteristically loosened the grids and structures that were central to her designs in the 1990s and that initiated her repute in the USA particularly. Her skill in suggesting a stable three–dimensional space and dynamic activity at the same time is on display in this painting, as is an ever more vibrant array of colours. Across the top, the openings of what can be read as a colonnade seem to recede, working in genial harmony with a portal created in the top right corner through the quick and broad application of yellow. These gestures create a rectangle through which we can peer. While there is no preferred focus or resting place in the overall composition, neither is it chaotic. Instead, Thomasos’s architectonic underlies her distinctive freedom with the texture, hue, and the application of paint and gives us an optical and emotional purchase from which to explore the many visual ideas present on her canvas.

Mark A. Cheetham is a freelance writer and curator and a professor of art history at the University of Toronto. He is author of two books on modern and contemporary abstract art, “The Rhetoric of Purity” and “Abstract Art Against Autonomy”.

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Denyse Thomasos
(1964 - 2012)

Born in 1964 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Thomasos emigrated with her family to Canada in 1970, settling in Mississauga, Ontario. Earning her Bachelor of Arts in painting and art history at the University of Toronto in 1987, she went on to receive her MFA in painting and sculpture at the Yale School of Art in 1989.

Her works are accomplished in a semi-abstract style and focus on urban landscapes while conveying themes of slavery, confinement and the story of African and Asian Diaspora. Political in nature, her works were inspired by her extensive travel and development of rapidly growing communities imploring the viewer to consider mass organization as forms and figures stack on top of one another. There is a nod to architectural drawings and blue prints with an emphasis on line and geometry in her works with a strong trace of the artist's gesture.

Thomasos was a professor at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, and then (beginning in 1995), Associate Professor of Art at  Rutgers University's Arts, Culture and Media Department. She was awarded a 1997 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 1999 Canada Council Millennium Grant, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award in Painting and completed a travel residency at the American Academy in Rome.  The artist passed away unexpectedly from an allergic reaction during a medical procedure in 2012 in New York.