Thomas Sills

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[1] Thomas Sills (August 20, 1914 – September 26, 2000) was a painter and collagist and a participant in the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. At the peak of his career in the 1960s and 1970s, his work was widely shown in museums. He had four solo shows at Betty Parsons Gallery, was regularly featured in art journals and is in museum collections.

Painting Practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a painting.



Early years

Thomas Sills was born and raised in Castalia, North Carolina. Before he got involved with painting, he worked in a greenhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the color around him made a strong impression on him. Once in New York, he worked on the docks, as a janitor, and as a deliveryman. [2]

Castalia, North Carolina Town in North Carolina, United States

Castalia, is a town in Nash County, North Carolina, United States. It is part of the Rocky Mount, North Carolina Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 268 at the 2010 census.

Greenhouse building in which plants are grown

A greenhouse is a structure with walls and roof made chiefly of transparent material, such as glass, in which plants requiring regulated climatic conditions are grown. These structures range in size from small sheds to industrial-sized buildings. A miniature greenhouse is known as a cold frame. The interior of a greenhouse exposed to sunlight becomes significantly warmer than the external ambient temperature, protecting its contents in cold weather.

Raleigh, North Carolina Capital of North Carolina

Raleigh is the capital of the state of North Carolina and the seat of Wake County in the United States. Raleigh is the second-largest city in the state, after Charlotte. Raleigh is known as the "City of Oaks" for its many oak trees, which line the streets in the heart of the city. The city covers a land area of 142.8 square miles (370 km2). The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the city's population as 479,332 as of July 1, 2018. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The city of Raleigh is named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who established the lost Roanoke Colony in present-day Dare County.


Sills spent most of his creative life in New York City, deeply rooted in the artistic trends as well as cultural issues from the early 1950s to 1970s. He knew Willem de Kooning who visited his studio and told him not to throw anything away before anyone had seen it.

Willem de Kooning Dutch painter

Willem de Kooning was a Dutch American abstract expressionist artist. He was born in Rotterdam and moved to the United States in 1926, becoming an American citizen in 1962. In 1943, he married painter Elaine Fried.

Others in the NY circle gave him advice. At the time of his first solo show, Barnett Newman sent him a letter of congratulations. [3] His friendships with Newman and Mark Rothko placed him at the intellectual center of the Abstract Expressionist movement, but like de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and Franz Kline, Sills believed that it was not necessary to explain his art; he painted what he felt and it came from within. [3]

Mark Rothko American painter

Mark Rothko, born Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, was an American painter of Russian Jewish descent. Although Rothko himself refused to adhere to any art movement, he is generally identified as an abstract expressionist.

Arshile Gorky Armenian-American painter

Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-American painter, who had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism. He spent most his life as a national of the United States. Along with Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Gorky has been hailed as one of the most powerful American painters of the 20th century. As such, his works were often speculated to have been informed by the suffering and loss he experienced in the Armenian Genocide.

Franz Kline American painter

Franz Kline was an American painter. He is associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s and 1950s. Kline, along with other action painters like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, John Ferren, and Lee Krasner, as well as local poets, dancers, and musicians came to be known as the informal group, the New York School. Although he explored the same innovations to painting as the other artists in this group, Kline's work is distinct in itself and has been revered since the 1950s.

Sills began his work as a fine artist when he was in his mid-thirties, about the time he married the mosaicist and art collector Jeanne Reynal, who was an important member of the surrealist movement in the United Sates. Essentially self-taught and inspired by Reynal's collection of abstract art, he began working with the materials he found in her mosaic studio, but soon branched out to oil on wood as well as canvas.

Fine art art developed primarily for aesthetics

In European academic traditions, fine art is art developed primarily for aesthetics or beauty, distinguishing it from applied art, which also has to serve some practical function, such as pottery or most metalwork.

Jeanne Reynal (1903-1983) was an American artist. Her work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her personal papers from 1942 to 1968 are included in the Archives of American Art.

Abstract art art with a degree of independence from visual references in the world

Abstract art uses a visual language of shape, form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Western art had been, from the Renaissance up to the middle of the 19th century, underpinned by the logic of perspective and an attempt to reproduce an illusion of visible reality. The arts of cultures other than the European had become accessible and showed alternative ways of describing visual experience to the artist. By the end of the 19th century many artists felt a need to create a new kind of art which would encompass the fundamental changes taking place in technology, science and philosophy. The sources from which individual artists drew their theoretical arguments were diverse, and reflected the social and intellectual preoccupations in all areas of Western culture at that time.

Through his exploratory approach to materials, Sills was able to release phantasmical abstract paintings. Intrigued by the light quality of mosaics, a similar luminosity emerged in Sill's bright oil compositions. His provocative handling of color and innovative use of media attracted the attention of the New York avant-garde.

Mosaic image made from an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials

A mosaic is a piece of art or image made from the assembling of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It is often used in decorative art or as interior decoration. Most mosaics are made of small, flat, roughly square, pieces of stone or glass of different colors, known as tesserae. Some, especially floor mosaics, are made of small rounded pieces of stone, and called "pebble mosaics".

Sills's regular presence in the art world of the 1950s through the early 1970s as an African-American painter situated him as an integral element of the mainstream and African-American art. Thomas Sills perceived his art to be beyond the political. He found in Art a form of expression for the dynamism that escapes any formal constraints. Sills' work was highly intuitive and he too sought inspiration from indigenous art—in the 1950s he made frequent trips to Mexico to study the sculptures, frescos and architecture of Chiapas and the Yucatan.

At the peak of his career in the 1960s and 1970s, his work was widely shown in museums. He had four solo shows at Betty Parsons Gallery, was regularly featured in art journals and is in museum collections. Today, there is a renaissance of the popularity of his works. He is being exhibited in many shows, most recently African American Abstract Masters at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York and Abstraction Plus Abstraction at Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba, and Encore, Five Abstract Expressionists at Sidney Mishkin Gallery of Baruch College, The City University of New York in 2006.

His work has been acquired by over 30 museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum Modern of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Newark Museum. [2] [4] [5]

Death and legacy

Thomas Sills died on September 26, 2000, in New York City at the age of 86.

Selected solo exhibitions

Selected group exhibitions



  1. Rosemont, Penelope (2000-12-01). Surrealist Women. A&C Black. ISBN   9780567171283.
  2. 1 2 L.S. Sims, "Thomas A. Sills: A Eulogy" in Thomas Albert Sills (1914–2000): A Retrospective of the Work. Cleveland, OH: Corcoran Fine Arts Limited, 2000.
  3. 1 2 L. Campbell,"The Flowering of Thomas Sills" in Art News, March 1972.
  4. M.A. Rose, African American Abstract Artists, New York: Anita Shapolsky Gallery, 2010.
  5. S. Kraskin, Encore: Five Abstract Expressionists: Amaranth Ehrenhalt, Leonard Nelson, Jeanne Reynal, Thomas Sills, and Ary Stillman, New York: Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, 2006.


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