By Wayne Doyle
If you haven’t seen the Denyse Thomasos show Odyssey at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection consider this fair warning – it closes October 24. If you miss it, you will have missed an incredible opportunity to view some fantastic paintings.
The works in Odyssey are huge (ok, there are some smaller works too), compelling, challenging and engaging on every level.
Semi-abstract and abstract works, many of Thomasos’ paintings deal with slavery, imprisonment, graveyards – subject matter that the Trinidadian-Canadian artist had explored for years before her untimely death in 2012.
Aesthetically, the paintings are breathless – swaths of colour defined roughly yet specifically into buildings, shipping containers, floating islands and tiny cells. Slashes of contrasting colour define walls and windows and sometimes prison bars and slave ships.
Multiple layers of grids intersect with each other, creating dense, multi-directional maps that demand exploration.
Gazing longer, you recognize boxes and buildings stacked one on top of another and there is no space, no identity. It’s cramped and it’s frightening. It’s claustrophobic and confining. And that’s exactly what Thomasos was trying to achieve.
In an artist statement shortly before her death, she wrote:
“I was struck by the premeditated, efficient, dispassionate records of human beings as cargo and also by the deplorable conditions of the slave ships—so many Africans stacked and piled into the tiny, airless holds. In my artworks, I used lines in deep space to recreate these claustrophobic conditions, leaving no room to breathe. To capture the feeling of confinement, I created three large-scale black-and-white paintings of the structures that were used to contain slaves—and left such catastrophic effects on the black psyche: the slave ship, the prison, and the burial site. These became archetypal for me. I began to reconstruct and recycle their forms in all of my works.”
Denyse Thomasos Odyssey is at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg until Oct. 24, 2021.
Wayne Doyle is the manager of marketing and communications for the York Region Arts Council. A former journalist, Wayne is always looking for great stories to share with readers of experienceyorkregion.com. If you’ve got a York Region story to tell, contact Wayne: email@example.com