“Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”—Alma Thomas
Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was an American Abstract Expressionist artist, and art educator, who devoted her life to the youth of her local Washington DC community. She was the first graduate of Howard University’s School of Fine Arts, after which she spent her life teaching middle school. Though she had painted throughout her life, taking graduate classes at nights, and using art as a communication tool in the classroom, it wasn’t until she retired at age 68 that she began another chapter of her life as an acclaimed professional artist. After a severe attack of arthritis that nearly left her paralyzed, she restored her health and creativity by painting in a new style: “I decided to try to paint something different from anything I’ d ever done—different from anything I’ d ever seen. I thought to myself, ‘That must be accomplished.”’ With the tree and garden outside her room window as inspiration, Alma created a mosaic-like style, which would become her signature: small, rectangular shapes of bright, intense colors merged together in curves, and circles. For the rest of her life, till she died at 86, she continued to paint, showing her work in many acclaimed galleries and shows. In 1972, at the age of 80, was was the first black woman to ever be given a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.
“People come to me and say, ‘Tell me how to paint.’ I say, ‘I can’ t. It comes from inside you. You have to expose yourself. Nobody taught me how to paint. I had to do it myself.”’