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Artist Denyse Thomasos, whose semi-abstract paintings evoke an architecture of floating cities, died suddenly yesterday. The cause was an allergic reaction during a diagnostic medical procedure. She was 47.
Thomasos was born in 1964 in Trindad. Her family moved to Canada in 1970, and she grew up in Mississauga, Ontario. She received her BA in painting and art history from the University of Toronto in 1987, afterwards moving to the US and enrolling at Yale University, where she completed her MFA in painting and sculpture there in 1989. She had her first solo exhibition that same year at Alpha Gallery in Boston.
After Yale, Thomasos moved to New York, but she exhibited little until 1997, when she began showing her work with Lennon, Weinberg gallery in New York and Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto. From 1995 until her death, she served as an associate professor of art at Rutgers University, where she was co-faculty with Hyperalleric Weekend editor John Yau. Yau offered this appreciation of Thomasos and her art:
Thomasos is known for her abstract paintings in which images of housing blocks, tiered parking garages, warehouses, scaffolding and abstract passages occupied an expanding, hyperbolic space. Her multi-layered, constructed space evokes something between a merry-go-round and a tornado, something under extreme centrifugal pressure. It’s as if everything is threatening to bust loose, and the painting itself can barely contain the accumulating forces. As Thomasos’ friends will readily attest, the dynamic forces found in her paintings were synonymous with her being. She was a force of nature.
Despite its semi-abstract nature, Thomasos’s art was also political, exploring both her personal heritage and larger social issues. Reviewing her most recent solo show in New York, in the winter of 2009, Cora Fisher wrote in The Brooklyn Rail:
The paintings, and the video, want us to consider whether the models of massive organization that we are building in the world are at all desirable or even efficacious. If Thomasos’s line work suggests an analogy to an architect’s blueprint, it would be for a dystopian remodeling job, where the end is nowhere in sight, and the wealthy client is never satisfied. Privilege, the ability to pay to isolate oneself from neighboring conditions, to overtop, just might be doomed here. These theoretical worlds signify overpopulation, an impersonal and confining density that has not fully taken hold.
Throughout her career, Thomasos received many grants and awards, including residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony and Guggenheim and Pew Fellowships. Artist Andrea Belag met Thomasos at Yaddo, and told Hyperallergic:
She was the kind of person you were very attracted to — fun to be with, smart, talented, outspoken, generous. She had a real creative sense about how to make her life rich and bring that to whatever she did. She was really an admirable creative woman.
One of Thomasos’s paintings, “Yves Bleu,” is currently on view at Lennon, Weinberg, in the group exhibition The Early Show, through August 17. Gallery owner Jill Weinberg Adams wrote to Hyperallergic:
Denyse was an exceptionally strong-willed person. She set goals for herself with determination, and achieved them all — travel, professional recognition, family — and never did less than challenge herself to make her paintings bigger, stronger, more complex and filled with meaning. Her sudden death at such a young age is a great loss, for her family most of all, her community at Rutgers, her students and the large and appreciative audience for her work.
Thomasos is survived by her husband, Samein Priester, and their daughter, Syann.