Alma Thomas


Though she was the first African-American woman to receive a solo exhibition at an American museum—at the Whitney, in 1972—the abstract painter Alma Thomas (1891-1978) is underknown today. “Moving Heaven & Earth,” her second solo show at Rosenfeld, offers a good opportunity for New Yorkers to reacquaint themselves with her work. Writing about her last one-woman show at the gallery in A.i.A.‘s Jan. 2002 issue, Joe Fyfe described Thomas’s painterly language as “at once more worldly in its eclecticism and more homespun in its intimacy” than the Washington Color Field artists in her circle. Indeed, the paintings that resonate most here break with the pour technique favored by Morris Louis and his cohort, opting for a brilliant ROYGBIV palette and mosaic-like markings to articulate jazzy compositions. While most eschew direct reference—political or otherwise—the exceptions, like the rainbow composition Apollo 12 “Splash Down” (1970), sing out.