DENYSE THOMASOS at Olga Korper Gallery (17 Morrow), to January 9. 416-538-8220. Rating: NNNN
Olga Korper’s gallery space, with its exposed steel beams, makes a perfect setting for the paintings of Denyse Thomasos.
Like Ethiopian-American artist Julie Mehretu, Thomasos, a Trinidad-born Canadian based in New York City, is a woman of colour who uses the tools of abstraction to represent the urban experience.
Her early works played with lines arranged in grid patterns that many likened to weaving, but Thomasos says the forms are linked to the cages and lash marks of slavery. Whether or not she communicates the emotions we’d expect with such content, her associations lend her surfaces an intense energy.
After focusing on works with overtly political content painted on museum walls, including one at the AGO (which purchased a huge Thomasos at the recent Toronto International Art Fair), she returns to canvas for this show.
Though inspired by places she visited in India and Africa, the paintings are by no means representations. She conveys a feeling of the constructed environment the way Emily Carr conveys a feeling of the forest.
Calling to mind shantytowns, stacked shipping containers, prison cells, boats, office cubicles – all in various stages of construction or deconstruction, sometimes tilting at alarming angles – the linear buildings and boxes are piled in a chaotic mix.
We seem to view them as if gazing into a pit (hence the show title, Excavations), an effect enhanced by installing them low on the gallery walls.
Thomasos’s facility with linear markings and rhythmic geometric forms gives the works a lively texture, but she’s also emerging as a master colourist.
The background blocks of grey, green and blue create a subtle, atmospheric space that anchors the visual activity. She may be making a subtle comment on globalization, but her refusal to be confined by identity politics makes Thomasos an interesting artist who makes modernism her own.