Lava Thomas's studio practice takes a wide range of thematic and material approaches. She utilizes a variety of techniques suited to the concept and evolution of each project – from drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography to sculpture and site-specific installations. Informed by feminist discourse, alternative approaches to portraiture, secular and religious ideas of the sacred, and African-American devotional and protest traditions, Thomas considers themes of social justice, female subjectivity, current events and the shifting tides of history.
Thomas is a native of Los Angeles, California. She studied at UCLA's School of Art Practice and received a BFA from California College of the Arts. A Djerassi Resident Artists Program Fellow, she is a former board member of the Djerassi Residents Artists Program and the Alliance of Artists Communities. In 2015 she was awarded the Joan Mitchell grant for Painters and Sculptors. In 2017 she was awarded an Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts.
Her work has been exhibited at various institutions including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C; the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, CA; the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa, CA; the International Print Center in New York, NY; the Betty Rymer Gallery at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, IL; the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, CA; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boulder, CO; the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery; the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art; the Berkeley Art Center in Berkeley, CA; and the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, CA. Her work is held in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, CA; the United States Consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa; the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco, CA; and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, PA.
Thomas is represented by Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco.
"Lava Thomas' work possesses the kind of simplicity that often accompanies a clear and mature vision. Her works are particularly compelling for their balance of internal and external, social and personal experience. They are characterized as well by a strong sense of material and form."
- Lawrence Rinder, Director of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive