Exploring Space: Alma Thomas

abstract painting
Alma Thomas: “The Eclipse,” 1970

Today I’m continuing my thoughts on space, and my mind drifts to the mesmerizing works of Alma Thomas. Thomas, an African American artist whose legacy continues to captivate audiences, had a profound impact on the art world through her innovative exploration of space and color. But what strikes me most about her work is not just her artistic prowess, but also the subtle yet significant feminist influence that permeates her creations.

Alma Thomas was a trailblazer in her own right, breaking barriers as an African American woman artist in a predominantly male-dominated art world. Born in 1891, she didn’t gain widespread recognition until later in life, but her distinctive style and bold experimentation with space have solidified her place in art history.

As I look at Thomas’ paintings, I’m struck by her masterful use of space. Influenced by her background in education and her keen interest in science, particularly astronomy and mathematics, Thomas approached space in her art with a unique perspective. Her paintings often feature vibrant abstract compositions, where large expanses of color dominate the canvas. These bold hues seem to pulsate with energy, creating a sense of movement and depth within the space of the painting.

But Thomas’ exploration of space goes beyond mere visual representation. She deftly manipulates geometric forms, color blending techniques, and spatial arrangements to challenge traditional notions of space and perspective. In doing so, she invites the viewer to engage with her work on multiple levels, encouraging exploration and discovery.

What’s particularly intriguing about Thomas’ work is the subtle feminist influence that underpins her artistic vision. As a woman of color navigating the art world during a time of profound social change, Thomas used her art as a means of self-expression and empowerment. Her bold, vibrant paintings defy categorization and challenge the status quo, much like the feminist movement of her time.

Moreover, Thomas’ emphasis on rhythm, harmony, and balance in her compositions reflects a deep sense of agency and autonomy. She refused to be confined by societal expectations or artistic conventions, instead forging her own path and leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire women artists to this day.

Through her vibrant paintings and fearless experimentation, Thomas not only expanded the boundaries of abstract art but also paved the way for future generations of women artists to make their mark on the world. And for that, we owe her a debt of gratitude.

Tribute to Alma Thomas, by Sally Jane Brown, 2021, watercolor


In creating this tribute to Alma Thomas, I depict myself immersed in her vibrant world of color and form. As a white woman, I am acutely aware of the tensions that arise when engaging with the work of artists from marginalized communities, particularly women of color like Thomas. It’s a tension that cannot be ignored, nor should it be brushed aside.

Rather than shying away from this discomfort, I chose to confront it. In my tribute to Thomas, I depicted myself fading into her colors, symbolizing my recognition of her influence and my acknowledgment of the privilege inherent in my position. It’s a gesture of humility and respect, a way of honoring the artist who came before me and whose legacy continues to shape the art world today.

Art has the power to transcend boundaries, to spark dialogue, and to challenge preconceived notions. Through my work, I strive to contribute to this ongoing conversation, always mindful of the complex dynamics at play. My tribute to Alma Thomas is not just about celebrating her remarkable talent, but also about grappling with the complexities of race, identity, and representation in art.

As I continue on my artistic journey, I carry with me the lessons and inspiration gleaned from artists like Alma Thomas. May we always approach her work with reverence and humility, seeking to amplify their voices and honor their contributions to the rich tapestry of human creativity.