Big, bold paintings highlight Denyse Thomasos in powerful AGO exhibit

An important Toronto artist is finally getting the major exhibit she deserves.

Denyse Thomasos: just beyond
Where: Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Toronto
When: Now until Mon., Feb. 20
Why you should go: Big, bold abstract paintings that speak to real issues from talented Trinidadian-Canadian artist who grew up in Toronto.

TORONTO — If you bought a caricature from one of those hardworking hustlers at Canada’s Wonderland or Ontario Place in the ’80s, you may have purchased original art from undercelebrated and ubertalented Trinidadian-Canadian painter Denyse Thomasos, the subject of a powerful, overdue show at Toronto’s AGO that has just opened and runs through February.

Born in Trinidad, raised in Toronto and spending most of her professional career in New York City before her untimely death at just 47, Thomasos left an impressive amount of work whose volume matches the scale of much of her output.

Thomasos earned money as a student while attending the University of Toronto doing caricatures at tourist sites in the ’80s.

The AGO’s massive show, spilling over a handful of galleries, features over 70 of the artist’s works, mostly muscular abstract paintings that manage to speak to very concrete issues, including the transatlantic slave trade and the overrepresentation of BIPOC people in prisons.

The exhibit includes Thomasos’s early work, including some of her figurative paintings and sketches as well as albums of photos she used to create her art.

But her massive gestural paintings — with bold, broad strokes, sometimes implicit geometric shapes and her fresh colour palette — make for exciting viewing and leave attendees excitedly moving from room to room, hungry to share in Thomasos’s unique vision.

Sometimes drawing architectural inspiration from Bush-era, U.S. super jails as well as African weaving, there is a relentless quality to Thomasos’s powerful shapes and patterns.

Despite moving to the U.S. in the ’90s, Thomasos continued to do Canadian commissions, including for Oakville Galleries, and that work is featured here.

Thomasos is an important artist who is finally getting the major exhibit she deserves.