ALMA THOMAS (1891-1978)
ALMA THOMAS (1891-1978)
ALMA THOMAS (1891-1978)
ALMA THOMAS (1891-1978)
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ALMA THOMAS (1891-1978)

Pink of Spring

ALMA THOMAS (1891-1978)
Thomas, A.
Pink of Spring
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'AWT 73' (lower right); signed, inscribed, titled and dated again '"Pink of Spring" '73 Alma W. Thomas Wash., D.C.' (on the overlap)
acrylic on canvas
30 x 36 in. (76.2 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1973.
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York
Franz Bader Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1973
New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, Alma W. Thomas: Paintings, October-November 1973.

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Lot Essay

Alma Thomas’ Pink of Spring radiates with the color and joy the artist sought from the natural world. Tessellating rose-pink strokes harmonize through a choreographed dance of varying sizes, shapes, and directions that appear to organically grow out from the canvas. Perhaps a suggestion of blooming cherry blossoms Thomas would have experienced living in Washington, D.C., Pink of Spring demonstrates the artist’s ability to embody visceral experiences through synthesized color and form.

Painted in 1973, just one year after the artist’s first major solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Pink of Spring realizes a late-in-life breakthrough in painterly experimentation, which led Thomas to adopt her signature dab-like expression of paint in bright colors. This crucial stylistic development was awakened one day while Thomas gazed up at a tree and noticed the way light was fractured by the leaves. This formative and lasting experience resulted in her development of a unique aesthetic language, eloquently expressed in the present work through its bright hues and emotive gestures.

Through these evolutions in painterly expression, Thomas fully embraced the flatness of the canvas and the emotive power of color. These stylistic proclivities—paired with the fact that she spent most of her life in Washington, D.C.—led to her association with the Washington Color School, joining the ranks of artists such as Sam Gilliam, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland. Despite this metamorphosis occurring later in her career, she became a beloved figure of the movement because of her ability to express complex emotions through harmonious color and form. One critic wrote of her artistic output during this period: “[Her] paintings are romantic but not mystical, emotive but not sentimental, pretty but not precious” (C. Wyma, “Alma Thomas: Critics’ Picks,” Artforum, 2016).

Thomas' innovation and reverence for painting was met with resounding praise. In the same year of its execution, Pink of Spring was included in an important exhibition of Thomas’ paintings at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. This exhibition came at a climactic moment in Thomas’ career, directly after her blockbuster solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972. This exhibition represented not only the widespread admiration and recognition for Thomas’ paintings at the time, but also a greater societal shift in the types of artists and artworks who were institutionally recognized, as the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney in its forty years of operation. After the show, the Museum acquired one of the paintings, Mars Dust, for their permanent collection. As a result of her perseverance and passion, Thomas’ trailblazing paintings of the early 1970s are commemorated in many public institutions.

While lauded for her aesthetic achievements of this particular period, art had been at the heart of Alma Thomas’ life since childhood. In high school, she fell in love with the creativity and sense of belonging painting offered her. As a result, she pursued a Fine Arts degree and became the first student to graduate from the then brand-new Arts department at Howard University in 1924. From then on, she was deeply involved in the arts in her community. For thirty-five years, she taught art classes at Shaw Junior High School and ran an art program at her local church. She continued her own education as well, receiving a master’s degree in art education at Columbia University and studying painting at American University. Her dedication to painting and transfer of knowledge and passion to others through teaching express her relentless pursuit of artmaking and its power to embolden and inspire.

As with painting, Thomas recognized the restorative power of one’s experiences with nature. Through its lively pink hue and pulsating gestures, Pink of Spring elicits a similar experience to the one the artist must have felt while painting it—one of elation, enchantment and expansion.

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