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Denyse Thomasos


December 11, 2021 - March 13, 2022 Organized by McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Denyse Thomasos (1964–2012) was a Trinidadian-Canadian artist whose epic paintings incorporate imagery from a range of sources, including Caribbean textiles, historic slave ships, industrial shipyards, graveyards, villages and maximum security prisons. Thomasos explained her choice of subject matter in an artist statement in 2012, shortly before her untimely death:

“I was struck by the premeditated, efficient, dispassionate records of human beings as cargo and also by the deplorable conditions of the slave ships—so many Africans stacked and piled into the tiny, airless holds. In my artworks, I used lines in deep space to recreate these claustrophobic conditions, leaving no room to breathe. To capture the feeling of confinement, I created three large-scale black-and-white paintings of the structures that were used to contain slaves—and left such catastrophic effects on the black psyche: the slave ship, the prison, and the burial site. These became archetypal for me. I began to reconstruct and recycle their forms in all of my works.”

The structures that confine and define us — whether political, social or architectural — served as the subject of her works. With her lush painterly approach, Thomasos compounded these subjects into form and colour. The result is a body of work that recalls the history of the African diaspora with boundless energy and force. Thomasos’ art enacts a delicate balance between representation and abstraction, and holds a unique place in the history of Canadian art, adding to a narrative from which Black, Indigenous, and people of colour’s voices have for too long been excluded. The McMichael’s exhibition gathers works from all phases of Thomasos’ career in celebration of her historic contribution.

This exhibition is supported by the Government of Canada.

Exhibition runs until March 13, 2022.

Image captions (L-R): Denyse Thomasos (1964–2012) Excavations: Jodhpur Rooftops, 2007 Acrylic on canvas. Denyse Thomasos (1964–2012) Sparrow, 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 152.4 x 182.9 cm, Atkinson Family. Denyse Thomasos (1964–2012), Untitled, 2012, Acrylic on canvas 45.7 x 61 cm. Private collection. All images © Courtesy of the Estate of Denyse Thomasos and Olga Korper Gallery.
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