Denyse Thomasos - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips
  • Fresh from Denyse Thomasos’ retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Inside Wyoming, 2001, is amongst the artist’s most striking works from the early 2000s, a period that saw her mature as an artist and loosen her innovative abstract style. Thomasos’ work has gained renewed interest in the past year following her inclusion in the 2022 Whitney Biennial. Though the late Trinidad-born, Canada-raised 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, a decade after her unexpected passing at age 47. 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


     “There was something very tedious about the technical aspect of figuration that I was not interested in… Whereas line, this sort of constant line, was like the recording of time… I could not be disconnected from my canvas emotionally, not even for one minute, and line allowed me that.”
    —Denyse Thomasos


    Painted in 2001, Inside Wyoming dates from a crucial period in Thomasos career. Thomasos—who was born in Trininad in 1964 and spent her childhood and youth in Toronto before moving to the United States—at that time had dedicated herself to painting for over a decade. Having completed her MFA at Yale in 1989 and held a teaching position in Philadelphia for several years, her move to New York City in 1995 ushered broader critical and commercial success. With early career exhibitions at Lennon, Weinberg, New York and Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto, Thomasos had made a name for herself as a daring young artist reinvigorating abstraction with her dynamic paintings that employ an off-kilter sense of space and depth to depict fragmented architectures.

    The title of Inside Wyoming responds to the artist’s time at the Ucross Foundation Artist Residency in Clearmont, Wyoming, one of Thomasos’ many lifetime accolades. As noted by Denise Ryner, Thomasos “often titled her work to denote the specific locales from which her color and form are sourced.”ii The present example utilizes earthy colors like reddish browns and muted yellows that recall the residency’s location at the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. The work exemplifies a certain maturation in Thomasos’ practice that saw a distinct loosening of style following her first few major solo exhibitions at Lennon, Weinberg and Olga Korper Gallery.


    In Inside Wyoming the brushstrokes are no longer concentrated in the distinctly vertical and horizontal orientations or decipherably crosshatched style of her work in the 1990s, but rather loosely applied in all directions across the canvas, with liberal drips of paint filtering through the composition. The work connotes a more labyrinthine, dense space in a breakthrough that anticipated the more articulated cities painted in the final years of her practice. In the present example, Thomasos combines natural tones with the suggestion of compact, built forms that emerge obliquely from her splashes of paint.


    “[Thomasos’] work sits at the intersection between the figurative and the conceptual, between reality and chaos. Her paintings are contained explosions, powerful blasts that tear out the walls but leave the structure standing.”
    —Esi Edugyan


    Of 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 Indeed, Thomasos’ outwardly abstract work responds to legacies of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, immigration, the architecture of incarceration and urban housing, topics that have only become more pressing in recent years. 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 through her brushwork. Her compositions allude to dense architecture, informed by the artist’s global travels across Africa and Asia. They also shed light on the “tools of an oppressive regime,” as delineated by Marsha Pearce, “the architectural diagrams for slave transport, the beams and riggers of detention docks, the jails and bars of incarceration, the cubicles and spaces of torture.”iv


     “I link... my personal history with my historical past. Slavery marks the start of my history; each stroke–a lash, each mark–resilience in the fields.”
    —Denyse Thomasos


    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.”v



    i Adrienne Edwards, “My Artist Ghost,” The New York Times, March 23, 2022, online

    ii Denyse Ryner, “what remains and what’s left behind” in just beyond, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2022, p. 59

    iii Holland Cotter, “A Whitney Biennial of Shadow and Light,” The New York Times, April 1, 2022, online

    iv Marsha Pearce, “an aesthetic of survival,” in just beyond, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2022, pp. 34–35

    v Adrienne Edwards, “My Artist Ghost,” The New York Times, March 23, 2022, online

    • Provenance

      Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Lennon, Weinberg, Inc., Before Again, October 15–November 28, 2009
      Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Denyse Thomasos: just beyond, October 8, 2022–February 20, 2023, pp. 113, 169 (illustrated, p. 113)

    • Literature

      Ilka Scobie, "Denyse Thomasos: The Divide at Lennon, Weinberg," Artcritical, December 2009, online


Inside Wyoming

signed, titled and dated "'Inside Wyoming' 2001 Denyse Thomasos" on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
48 x 44 in. (121.9 x 111.8 cm)
Painted in 2001.

Full Cataloguing

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $63,500

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023