Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
    Urban Palette
by Ilka Scobie
Virtual Incarceration
Denyse Thomasos, Sept. 23-Oct. 25, 1999, at Lennon, Weinberg, 560 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012.

Denyse Thomasos says, "My paintings bring to the viewer a picture of what a contemporary black mind feels and looks like at the new millenium -- the interior of a mind." Born in Trinidad and working in New York City, Thomasos opens the season at Lennon, Weinberg in SoHo with a group of new abstract paintings. Her work is also included in "Women and Geometric Abstraction," Sept. 21-Oct. 27, 1999, at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery.

Thomasos' interest in the order of things and structural exploration makes her work kin to the nature walks of Richard Long, Alice Aycock's wooden structures and the projects of architect Frank Gehry. Posted on a wall of her downtown studio are images as diverse as Piero della Francesca, Barbara Kruger, Joseph Beuys and African textiles.

The heart of the show is the 11-by-20-foot Virtual Incarceration, which serves as a reference point for the six other canvases. A rigorous maze of obsidian and gray enlivened with dashes of mauve, blue and green, the work is indicative of an urban palette ("East Village," interjects the artist). The monumental opus can easily be interpreted as a prison, but Thomasos says, "The jail can be read as inner conflicts." The sheer magnitude of the painting reflects a complex theoretical architecture that can only exist in painting. The accumulation of linear strokes builds into a suggestive surface, balancing between the abstract and the real. Depicted spatial confinement is both physical and political.

Thomasos continues, "People read politics in an obvious way. For me, the political is in the structure of the work. What I'm painting about is the structural psychology of a mind that has been disrupted and distorted through the black experience in the Western world." She defines the "virtual" of the title as "incarceration, in the belief of it not existing -- it's about the denial in America of what's really going on." But the fact that one out of three black men under 29 years old is under some form of criminal justice supervision is an inescapable American fact.

Although the other paintings share the interweaving structure, they represent very different subject matter. In Ascension, the swirl of calligraphic blue and green strokes propels the viewer into a discombobulated vortex. Chip's elaborate grid construction melds passion with technology.

Thomasos' unrelenting repetition of lines and condensed crosshatching create a beautiful surface. Her flat matte strokes are all painted freehand, with only the occasional use of a wooden stick as a straight edge. With development of her passionate and poetic alphabet, Thomasos continues to challenge and re-energize contemporary abstraction.

ILKA SCOBIE is a native New Yorker who writes poetry and art criticism.