Little Grand Canyon Yellow: Earth Pigments from Places


Called Little Grand Canyon Yellow, this 1964 painting by Howard Thomas is hung next to a vitrine of small, re-purposed glass jars at the Georgia Museum of Art. The title of the work was intended literally. The artist made the yellow pigment from earth from the Grand Canyon. Perhaps it is not coincidental this painting preceded the earthworks of Robert Smithson and Ana Mendieta of the 1970s.  Although still on canvas, Thomas engages with site through the locally sourced pigment that are referenced in the title. The style of the work, however, rather than being a fragmented areal view, seems to me more like formalist play because of the  centered shapes bounded by the canvas, suggesting no expansive horizon, and the disjointed layerings that creates a tone-on-tone sense of motion or depth.


The glass jars showing Thomas’s pigments have fascinating labels, like the one below labelled “Frat House.” What kind of painting might that have been used in versus the one above, I wonder.




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