Denyse Thomasos - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips
  • "Among her [Denyse Thomasos] distinguishing qualities she helped align the identity-and-system-questioning conceptual art of David Hammons and Adrian Piper with the experimental abstract painting of Sam Gilliam, Ed Clark and Jack Whitten. She laid the groundwork for the artists Julie Mehretu and Ellen Gallagher, although neither of them knew of her or her work."
    —Adrienne Edwards 
    In this year's Whitney Biennale, Denyse Thomasos is indisputably a major stand-out. Though the late Trinidad-born painter gained significant acclaim during her lifetime–David Hammons included her in his seminal 2002 exhibition Quiet as It’s Kept alongside Stanley Whitney and Ed Clark–her practice has remained relatively underrecognized up until now. As lauded by Biennale co-curator Adrienne Edwards in her New York Times essay dedicated solely to the artist, “I realized Thomasos was the one I have been waiting for—the one who viscerally captured, nearly 30 years ago, the unspeakable, irresolvable, the unimaginable, that which cannot be represented but perhaps only felt.”i


    Spin, 1997, comes to auction at this moment of long overdue institutional and critical recognition, capturing Thomasos’ unique approach to abstraction that will be celebrated at the Art Gallery of Ontario in a major career retrospective on the artist this October. With energetic gestures and strong, saturated colors, Spin is a spectacular painting that vividly exemplifies Thomasos’ virtuosic brushwork. Working quicky but deliberately, Thomasos built up the canvas with intricate crosshatches of colors, allowing each layer of color to dry between application. The overall blue-hued work is comprised of distinctive strokes in violets, warm pinks, olive greens and soft blacks that coalesce into a pulsating, all-over composition.


    Installation view, Lennon Weinberg Gallery, Denyse Thomasos: Paintings 1995-1997, May 29–July 25, 1997
    Installation view, Lennon Weinberg Gallery, Denyse Thomasos: Paintings 1995-1997, May 29–July 25, 1997

    Painted in 1997, Spin is among the 13 works that Thomasos presented the same year in her first New York solo show, a highly acclaimed breakthrough exhibition at Lennon Weinberg Gallery. At the time, Thomasos had made a name for herself as a daring young painter–embracing a monumental scale for her paintings as she continuously pushed herself to new artistic heights. Populated by fragmented architectures, Denyse Thomasos’ dynamic paintings skillfully employ an off-kilter sense of space and depth within gridded, abstract landscapes. On Thomasos’ 1997 exhibition, Dominique Nahas praised the artist for her “command of the way the stroke can be responsive to concretize various kinds of pictorial space as well as their slow dismantling.”ii

    "This is Denyse Thomasos’ first New York solo show and she’s given us an exhibition filled with consummate skill and flair. Her dramatic paintings, at their best, are light and graceful filled with breathtakingly taut yet expandable, energy."
    —Dominque Nahas
    On Thomasos’ paintings in the Whitney Biennial, Holland Cotter remarked they are “all about painterly gesture, but they’re also all about the history of Black captivity, past and present”.iii Challenging the limits of abstraction, Thomasos integrated personal and political content into her compositions, drawing from her experience as an immigrant twice over, the discrimination faced by her family during her Canadian upbringing, and the legacies of colonization and slavery in Trinidad and the United States. As observed by Adrienne Edwards, “Thomasos’ paintings refer to the systems and structures that shape our world... they are also deeply personal.”iv 

    Considering the Middle Passage of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, immigration, the architecture of incarceration and urban housing, Thomasos’ work addresses topics that have only become more pressing in recent years. Commenting on the social mission of her work, Thomasos has stated: "Overall I'm not trying to give the audience a happy experience or a dark experience. I'm trying to give a complex experience."v The artist brings to her work a nuanced reflection on the built environment, referencing structures ranging from boats and harbors to slums and Philadelphia row houses. Her gridded compositions allude to dense architecture, informed by the artist’s global travels, but also reference weaving traditions with their quilt-like crosshatches. 
    "Overall I’m not trying to give the audience a happy experience or a dark experience. I’m trying to give a complex experience."
    —Denyse Thomasos

    Born in Trininad in 1964, Thomasos first moved to Toronto with her family in 1970 and then to the United States in 1986. After Thomasos had completed an MFA at Yale in 1989 and held a teaching position in Philadelphia for several years, Spin marked a seminal moment in her career, ushered by a bold move to New York to dedicate herself to her artistic practice full time. Thomasos’ interests took her far from the studio for most of the 2000s while she travelled widely across Asia, Africa and Europe with the intention of expanding the social and cultural themes embedded in her work. She returned to her studio practice in 2009, incorporating what she had gleaned from her intensive travel with renewed vigor. In 2012 at the height of a burgeoning career, Thomasos’ life was unexpectedly cut short at age 47 during a routine medical procedure. A decade after her passing, Thomasos’ brilliant but tragically limited career is deservedly being revisited.


    Artist’s biography

    Born in Trinidad, Thomasos was raised in Canada and moved to the United States to attend Yale University, where she completed her MFA in 1989. While completing her MFA studies Yale, Thomasos attended the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She was honored with the Guggenheim Fellowship Prize in 1997, the Joan Mitchell Foundation award in 1998, the New York Foundation for the Arts award in 2008, and numerous grants from the Canada Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Thomasos’ work was invigorated by travel, which led to artist residencies at the Ucross Foundation, Wyoming; the Bogliasco Foundation, Genoa; Yaddo, Saratoga Springs; MacDowell Colony, Peterborough; and the American Academy in Rome.


    i Adrienne Edwards, “My Artist Ghost,” The New York Times, March 23, 2022, online 
    ii Dominique Nahas, “Denyse Tomasos,” Review, June 15, 1997, p. 4
    iii Holland Cotter, “A Whitney Biennial of Shadow and Light,” The New York Times, April 1, 2022, online
    iv Adrienne Edwards, “My Artist Ghost,” The New York Times, March 23, 2022, online

    v Denyse Thomasos, as quoted in "Colour and the Shape," National Post, March 4, 2010, online

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Lennon Weinberg Gallery, Denyse Thomasos: Paintings 1995-1997, May 29–July 25, 1997
      The Newark Museum, 1997 New Jersey Arts Annual. Fine Arts. Choosing New Jersey, September 3–November 2, 1997, p. 31 (illustrated)
      New York, Hunter College Art Galleries–Times Square Gallery, Immediacies of the Hand: Recent Abstract Painting in New York, February 25–April 17,1999

    • Literature

      Dominique Nahas, "Denyse Thomasos," Review, June 15, 1997, p. 4
      Holland Cotter, "'Immediacies of the Hand'—Recent Abstract Painting in New York," The New York Times, April 9, 1999, section E, p. 40



signed, titled and dated "'Spin' Denyse Thomasos '97" on the overlap
oil on canvas
84 x 72 in. (213.4 x 182.9 cm)
Painted in 1997.

Full Cataloguing

$25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for $302,400

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022