Alma Thomas is the first African American woman to have her work displayed within public spaces in the White House. The 2015 addition of her painting, “Resurrection”, (1966) represents the Obamas aesthetic preference for contemporary and injected modern works into the otherwise traditional permanent collection. Thomas’ work joined those of Mark Rothko, Sam Francis and Robert Rauschenberg which were all selected to grace the Obama’s White House collection.
The artist’s work was inspired by New York School Abstract Expressionism which emphasized dynamic, energetic gestures, however Alma Thomas’ paintings also have an objective, cerebral focus on movement, light, color and sound characteristic of Impressionism. Because her work fused the two schools of painting, Thomas’ work could easily be described as “Abstract Impressionism”, a term coined by Elaine de Kooning that represents a method that evokes an artist’s emotion and expresses “lyrical and thoughtful qualities in paintings.”
Thomas’ career was prolific in the 1960s, a period that posed many challenges for her as a black woman artist. Rather than focus on identity, she chose to paint musical representations of harmonies found in nature. The inspiration for many of Alma Thomas’ paintings was found in the garden of her Washington D.C. home where she spent time “watching the leaves and flowers tossing in the wind as though they were singing and dancing.”
The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.