The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art has launched its 2019-2020 exhibition season with the Atlanta premiere of “Mildred Thompson: The Atlanta Years, 1986 – 2003” on view Wednesday, Sept. 11 through Saturday, Dec. 7.
Born in Jacksonville, Fl American abstract artist Mildred Thompson spent much of her early career in Germany and France in response to the racial and gender discrimination she faced in the United States. In 1986 she accepted an invitation to be an artist-in-residence at Spelman College and reained in Atlanta for the remainder of her life where her practice of abstraction flourished. This period marks a particularly prolific time in the artist’s career during which she was a professor at several area colleges, associate editor of Art Papers magazine, and a practicing visual artist, writer, and musician.
This exhibition honors Thompson’s life-long commitment to creating a universally resonant abstract visual language. The over 30 paintings, drawings, and prints on view demonstrate her affinity for exploring the rhythms and patterns of science and music and interpreting the workings of the cosmos and other natural phenomena. This selection of works represents the scale, complexity, dynamism, and energy of Thompson’s unique visual vocabulary, as well as her ability to translate these concepts across media.
Throughout her artistic career, Mildred Thompson sought to find meaning in the world through abstraction. Thompson, an artist committed to affirming humankind’s common bond to the systems of the universe, explored space, sound, and other elements that were not visible to the naked eye through shapes, color, lines, forms, and patterns. Figuration and narrative representation were—and arguably still are—the primary modes of expression for African American artists. Thompson was often excluded from exhibitions and, as a result, did not receive critical attention during her lifetime. Thompson, along with other Black abstract practitioners of her generation, is now receiving long-overdue recognition.
“Thompson, an expansive thinker and a force of nature who knew no boundaries, made an indelible imprint on Atlanta,” Dr. Brownlee stated. “The timely opportunity to present her work at Spelman—the institution that invited her to establish a relationship with the city—and examine the breadth of her work and the evolution of her career is particularly rewarding.”
Messina stated, “As the accomplishments of Black female abstract artists are being revitalized today, so too is the late Mildred Thompson’s work prompting renewed appreciation. We are very pleased to be working with Dr. Brownlee and Spelman College to bring Thompson’s work to a broader public and to the Atlanta community.”
In homage to Thompson’s many influences and other creative contributions, the exhibition will also feature a selection of objects and ephemera from the artist’s papers on loan from Emory University and the Estate’s collection, including books, photographs, music and writings.
The Museum’s 2019 – 2020 exhibition season is made possible by the Wish Foundation and the LUBO Fund. Additional support provided by the Massey Charitable Trust.