After the storm: Denyse Thomasos

The past week has been a whirlwind in many ways, not least because of the devastation Hurricane Sandy wreaked on the East Coast. Here in Toronto, we saw howling winds, a week of rain, and trees down, but nothing like the floods and power outages to our south. As cleanup began over the weekend in New York and New Jersey, we kept tabs on our friends’ progress down there while confronting a wholly unrelated, yet no less saddening tragedy up here — the death of a person we didn’t even know.

Denyse Thomasos in her studio, in a portrait taken by her husband of two years, Samein Priester. She also leaves behind their two-year old adopted daughter, Syann.

Denyse Thomasos, raised in Toronto but based in New York since graduating from Yale’s MFA program in 1989, died suddenly this past summer at the age of 47 after what was supposed to be a routine medical procedure. Represented by Olga Korper in Toronto and Lennon, Weinberg in New York, she was at the height of a career distinguished by bold, politically-engaged, semi-abstract paintings filled with light, colour, and the electrifying energy of her urban experiences traveling around the world.

At last weekend’s memorial exhibition and celebration at Olga Korper Gallery, Gaetane Verna‘s tearful and moving speech touched on Thomasos’ life as a traveler and a transplant (she was born in Trinidad and moved to Canada at the age of 6 in the wake of political violence) using Thomasos’ own words: “To experience exile is to live in the faith of a homecoming.”

Later, her studio assistant from the past two summers would relate how Thomasos worked “absolutely intuitively, painting like a storm” — an apt metaphor, made particularly resonant in light of nature’s recent show of force. (Incidentally, Thomasos lived in the East Village, an area that was affected by the hurricane last week).

In closing, she said, “Even if you didn’t know her, her paintings are her.” If so, then Thomasos must have been a confident, assertive, open, and wonderfully expressive person; gathering and spilling over with energy and life. In short, a true force of nature herself.

Above and below, works from the memorial exhibition, presumably in various stages of completion, ranging from monumental wall-sized compositions to spatial sketches on tiny canvases.


All works by Denyse Thomasos, contact Olga Korper Gallery for details. Portrait of Thomasos in her studio by her husband Samein Priester. All other photos by Shani K Parsons

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