|Mars Dust, 1972.|
The 2015 inaugural exhibit at the new Whitney Museum featured one work painted by Alma Thomas (1891 - 1978), Mars Dust, above. I asked the cosmos "Why haven't I heard about this woman before?" and the cosmos responded with an exhibit at The Studio Museum in Harlem, on view from July 14, 2016 through October 30, 2016. "Alma Thomas" was organized by Skidmore College's Tang Teaching Museum, and featured 16 paintings, as well as 27 studies and other works on paper.
|Works on paper.|
Ms. Thomas taught art at a junior high school until retiring at age 69. Her mature style developed when the end of her teaching career allowed Ms. Thomas to focus solely on her art. Early works included figurative imagery, such as the Study for the March on Washington, below, but she soon shifted to abstract works exploring color. One review included a quote from Ms. Thomas, "color for me is life".
|Study for March on Washington, c. 1964.|
One gallery of the overall exhibit features several canvasses inspired by the garden. Strokes of color - almost like the bigger sisters of pointillistic dots - are arrayed in rainbow-hued columns. The dashes of color are carefully placed so that the white interstitial space develops a line of its own, and close scrutiny reveals that sometimes the colors are over-painted with white for further delineation and a layering effect.
|Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968; right, detail.|
|Wind, Sunshine and Flowers, 1968.|
|Wind, Sunshine and Flowers, detail.|
Ms. Thomas used a subtle color palette in her later work, "Cherry Blossom Symphony". The painting's large, pinkish paint strokes dance in complementary counterpoint with the small blue-green dashes; even without the narrative title, this work distills the essence of the spring season and flowering trees.
|Cherry Blossom Symphony, 1973.|
|Cherry Blossom Symphony, detail.|
|Arboretum Presents White Dogwood, 1972.|
Ms. Thomas worked with an even more restrained color palette in the painting above, in which white is now the top color, overlaying a blue ground. Three columns feature larger areas of blue, forming accents among the white strokes and cobalt dashes, jazzing up the rhythm of the vertical elements.
|Arboretum Presents White Dogwood, detail.|
|Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976.|
Sometimes the brushstrokes of paint enjoy liberation from their vertical arrays, as in Hydrangeas Spring Song, above.
|Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976, detail with signature.|
|Enjoying the paintings.|
Three paintings in the last gallery proved that this small exhibit punched above its weight. In Red Scarlet Sage, below, Ms. Thomas tiled the plane using crimson "shards" of color, with pea green "grout" between the shards. The image just vibrates as the complementary hues of red and green interact.
|Red Scarlet Sage, 1976|
|Red Scarlet Sage, detail.|
|White Roses Sing and Sing, 1976.|
The work White Roses Sing and Sing, above, features a color palette in less tension; nevertheless, yellow accents ensure a dynamic image.
|White Roses Sing and Sing, detail.|
|Scarlet Sage Dancing a Whirling Dervish, 1976.|
As noted in a review in the New York Times, this small exhibit - fewer than 20 canvasses - makes one yearn for the full-scale, comprehensive show which Ms. Thomas deserves. More work can been seen in the catalog, ISBN-10 3791355716, which was not yet available at the time of my visit, so I can't comment on the essays. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has "Red Roses Sonata", from 1972, on view in Gallery 923.
Finally, after enjoying the exhibit, we had lunch at the nearby Red Rooster Harlem restaurant. Try the deviled eggs and cornbread.