New York based artist Mickalene Thomas is best known for her elaborate rhinestone, acrylic, and enamel paintings. She introduces a complex vision of what it means to be a woman and expands common definitions of beauty. Her work stems from her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life.
Inspired by various sources that range from the 19th century Hudson River School to Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, and Romare Bearden, she continues to explore notions of beauty from a contemporary perspective infused with the more recent influences of popular culture and Pop Art.
Says Thomas about her work: “Emerging from a discourse of black and female identity—my practice stems from an interest in the historical traditions of Western art. Shaped through studies of portraiture, landscape, and still life painting, my explorations have sought to examine established notions of beauty, sexuality, and subjectivity.
“By fusing historical influences with pop and personal significance, I aim to blur the distinction of object and subject, concrete and abstract, real and imaginary. Indeed, the modes through which culture serves to shape perception across social, spatial, and ideological platforms is fundamental to my investigations.
“Through painting, photography, collage, and installation, my strategies include appropriation and pastiche, whereby the repurposing of formal and conceptual artistic iconology is developed in order to re-evaluate its context. Here, my study of French Impressionism, European modernism and pop art plays a formative influence—wherein pioneers including Bearden, Neel, Picasso, Manet, and Warhol continue to activate my interest and approach.
“The subjects that populate my images are similarly influential, however their significance is often intimate or personal. Family, friends, and lovers feature throughout my oeuvre; subsisting as powerful figures that serve to characterize the subjective, and often otherworldly, propositions that I envision.”
Major exhibitions of Thomas’ work include Mickalene Thomas: Do I Look Like a Lady?, MOCA, Los Angeles, CA; Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, Canada; Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Permanent Collection Highlights American Art, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Mickalene Thomas, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA and I Was Born to do Great Things, Kavi Gupta, Chicago.