Phillip Thomas



Desert Lady; For Mom

(oil on board; 2021)

Untouchable Artifacts · Desert Lady; For Mom


“Family, friends and the environment have always been the source of inspiration for my work.

This was a painting made for, and about, my mother Vicki Thomas. Even though my mother spent her childhood in Portland, the southwest is where she spent most of her life.  It is where I was raised, and spent my most formative years.

Since I was young, my mom was always moving around.  In her constant movement I saw her trying to find ways to be free, happy and native; all while trying to teach me the values and lessons passed down from her and my grandmother.  They are both very strong women who come from strong matriarchal structures.

In this painting I chose to respect that power, movement and strength by using iconography drawn from both Chickasaw culture, and her independent way of being.  The turtle, or tortoise, holds great meaning to me.  It represents Turtle Island, and pays homage to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare; she was constantly on the move, but always landed on her feet by taking her time getting to where she wanted to be.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Chickasaw dancers also use turtle shells in their regalia, and I wanted to symbolize the respect and space she made for our culture by including other special objects— things that if you know, you know.  These nearly indistinctive, but culturally recognizable, objects signify the invincibility and intimacy of the stories and lessons she taught me.

While I don’t believe in the homogeneity of the indigenous experience, there are some things that simply transcend culture; the most important being the broken down rez truck. My mom was always buying beaters and trying to fix them up; one of the things that comes with the territory of being in poverty. She wears it proudly, though; her long hair blows in the wind, while she’s surrounded by all the things she loves.  In making the work, I got the chance to think about what she loved; what had meaning to her? What would she take with her on her journey? She moves through her landscape, with her power, beauty, humor and identity all sacred, all untouchable.”

—Phillip Thomas

Phillip Thomas is a Chickasaw artist. Thomas’s work is multidimensional, mixed media paintings. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon where he spends his time working. When he was a youth most of his life was spent moving back and forth, from the east to west coast. Through this he has been exposed to a range of american culture which has had a huge impact on his train of thought and how he approaches the content of his work.

Thomas received his BFA in 2015 where he worked on refining his overall technique and content.


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