Hank Willis Thomas - AMERICAN AFRICAN AMERICAN New York Friday, February 8, 2019 | Phillips
  • Video

    Hank Willis Thomas

    Then is Now, 2017

  • Provenance

    Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Born 1976, Plainfield, NJ
    Lives and works in New York, NY

    2004 MA, MFA, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA
    1998 BFA, New York University, New York, NY

    Selected honors: International Center of Photography 2015 Infinity Award for New Media (2015), Soros Equality Fellowship (2017); Aperture West Book Prize (2008)
    Selected museum exhibitions and performances: Brooklyn Museum, NY; SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA; The Cleveland Museum of Art, OH; The Baltimore Museum of Art; and the Cleveland Art Museum
    Selected public collections: Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY

    Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to perspective identity, commodity, media, and popular culture. “In recent years I have approached my art practice assuming the role of a visual culture archaeologist,” Thomas has said. “I am interested in the ways that popular imagery informs how people perceive themselves and others around the world.” Working across photography, installation, video and media work, Thomas’s engagement with identity politics, history, and popular culture is particularly pertinent to today’s social and political climate.

    Willis employs the visual language and terminology of mass media, often appropriating symbols and images from popular culture, to investigate the idea of representation. At the core of his practice has been photography, and, by extension, the truth claims inherent to imagery. As he explained, “My mother, Deborah Willis, is a photographer, photo-historian, author, and educator. Cameras have been part of my life since I can remember… In the United States, every photograph of a person speaks to issues of race, class, and identity. I use photography to approach these issues because I already know that the public's eye is trained to subconsciously imbibe images on a massive scale. For this reason, it is the perfect medium by which to problematize these things in order to inspire dialogue.”

    Several of his series have explored the influence that power structures, such as advertising agencies and governing bodies, exert over our understanding of the world, while other works have played into the influence of social media outlets such as Instagram. Thomas’s lenticular text-based works such as Then is Now, 2017, require viewers to shift position in relation to the work in order to be able to fully view the content. "I like the idea of something that's not just all right in front of you," Thomas explained. "Something that's kind of hidden or revealed that takes a conversation to interact with." Requiring multiple “ways of looking”, these works are, “really about how we approach looking specific images or objects and trying to encourage the viewer to be hyperaware of their agency, but also of their unique perspective.”


Then is Now

57 x 43 in. (144.8 x 109.2 cm.)
Executed in 2017, this work is number 4 from an edition of 5 plus one artist's proof.

Estimate On Request


New York Selling Exhibition 10 January - 8 February 2019