The vibrant strips of color that appear in Thomas’s paintings and drawings, each made from clearly delineated brush marks, were often inspired by foliage moving in the light as seen through the window of the artist’s home, in Washington, DC. Although influenced by these constantly changing patterns and tones, the final compositions and color juxtapositions arose from careful, exacting preparation. Thomas attached drawings like this one to her blank canvases as a compositional guide, a working tool for mapping her color choices. Made on multiple pieces of paper joined by tape and staples, the drawing reflects a process of development that allowed for movement and change.
Thomas’s joyous abstractions are the result of her lifelong engagement with visual art, but she did not begin exhibiting her work regularly until she was sixty years old. In 1924 she was the first student to receive a bachelor of science degree in fine arts from Howard University, and soon thereafter she began teaching art at Shaw Junior High School, where she would work for almost forty years. She retired in 1960 and had her first solo exhibition later that year. In 1972 she became the first black woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)