Thomas Sills

Last updated

Thomas Sills (August 20, 1914 – September 26, 2000) was a painter and collagist and a participant in the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. [1] 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.



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]


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.

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]

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 States. 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.

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.

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 (December 1, 2000). 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.


Related Research Articles

James Brooks (painter) American painter

James D. Brooks was an American muralist, abstract painter, and winner of the Logan Medal of the Arts.

Ethel Schwabacher American painter

Ethel Kremer Schwabacher was an abstract expressionist painter, represented by the Betty Parsons Gallery in the 1950s and 1960s. She was a protégé and first biographer of Arshile Gorky, and friends with many of the prominent painters of New York at that time, including Willem de Kooning, Richard Pousette-Dart, Kenzo Okada, and José Guerrero. She was also the author of a monograph on the artist John Ford and a memoir, "Hungry for Light".

Albert Kotin belonged to the early generation of New York School Abstract Expressionist artists whose artistic innovation by the 1950s had been recognized across the Atlantic, including in Paris. The New York School Abstract Expressionism, represented by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and others became a leading art movement of the post-World War II era.

Friedel Dzubas was a German-born American abstract painter.

Nicolas Carone American artist

Nicolas Carone belonged to the early generation of New York School Abstract Expressionist artists. Their artistic innovation by the 1950s had been recognized internationally, including in London and Paris. New York School Abstract Expressionism, represented by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Conrad Marca-Relli and others, became a leading art movement of the postwar era.

Ernest Briggs (1923–1984) was a second-generation Abstract Expressionist painter known for his expressive, sometimes calligraphic brushwork, his geometric compositions, and revolution in abstract painting that secured New York City's position as the art capital of the world in the post-World War II period.

Mary Lee Abbott was an American artist, known as a member of the New York School of abstract expressionists in the late 1940s and 1950s. Her abstract and figurative work were also influenced by her time spent in Saint Croix and Haiti, where she lived off and on throughout the 1950s.

Perle Fine American artist

Perle Fine (1905–1988) was an American Abstract Expressionist painter. Fine was most known by her combination of fluid and brushy rendering of the materials and her use of biomorphic forms encased and intertwined with irregular geometric shapes.

Edward Dugmore American painter

Edward Dugmore was an abstract expressionist painter with close ties to both the San Francisco and New York art worlds in the post-war era following World War II. Since 1950 he had more than two dozen solo exhibitions of his paintings in galleries across the United States. His paintings have been seen in hundreds of group exhibitions over the years.

Edward Clark, also known as Ed Clark, was an American abstract expressionist painter and one of the early experimenters with shaped canvas in the 1950s.

Seymour Boardman (1921–2005) was a New York abstract expressionist. Since his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1951, Boardman developed a personal vision and style of his own, following his own path of abstraction. As a painter he sought to reduce the image to its bare essence.

Robert Goodnough was an American abstract expressionist painter. A veteran of World War II, Goodnough was one of the last of the original generation of the New York School;, even though he began exhibiting his work in galleries in New York City in the early 1950s. Robert Goodnough was among the 24 artists from the total of 256 participants who were included in the famous 9th Street Art Exhibition, (1951) and in all the following New York Painting and Sculpture Annuals from 1953 to 1957. These Annuals were important because the participants were chosen by the artists themselves. Early in his career starting in 1950 he showed his paintings at the Wittenborn Gallery, NYC. He had shown at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York City from 1952 to 1970 and again from 1984 to 1986. In 1960 and 1961 he had solo exhibitions at The Art Institute of Chicago. A veteran of scores of solo exhibitions and hundreds of group exhibitions in the United States and abroad, Goodnough also had solo exhibitions in 1969 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. A major work by Goodnough is included in The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection in Albany, NY. In later years his paintings were also associated with the Color Field movement.

Nassos Daphnis was a Greek-born American abstract painter, sculptor and tree peony breeder.

Lawrence Calcagno (1913–1993) was a San Francisco Bay area abstract expressionist painter. He described his artistic motivation in the following words

Alvin D. Loving Jr., better known as Al Loving, was an African-American abstract expressionist painter. His work is known for hard-edge abstraction, fabric constructions, and large paper collages, all exploring complicated color relationships.

Yvonne Thomas was an American abstract artist.

Haywood "Bill" Rivers was an African American contemporary artist.

Amaranth Roslyn Ehrenhalt is an American painter, sculptor, and writer, who spent the majority of her career living and working in Paris, France. Ehrenhalt is one of the few abstract expressionists from the New York School of the 1950s who is still active today. She now lives and works in New York City.

The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is an art gallery that was founded in 1982. It is located at 152 East 65th Street, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, in New York City.

Jeanne Patterson Miles (1908–1990) was an American abstract painter and sculptor.