Portrait of Lili in Color, 2008
I’m so thrilled to share one of my favorite artists for today’s Fine Art Focus. When I discovered the work of Mickalene Thomas several years ago, I was instantly drawn to the gaze of these powerful, provocative women posed against vibrant, loud and extremely decorative collages and interiors. In person, many of the pieces are large in scale and unabashedly in-your-face, but for all of their aesthetic complexity, the intrinsic messages are clear and deeply conceptual. Through an art historical lens, Mickalene is turning some of the most well-known art on its head and giving it new meaning. One of my favorites, A Little Taste Outside of Love (below), looks a lot like the famous Ingres painting, Grande Odalisque, which is but one of many depictions of the female nude in art. In Mickalene’s version, however, the figure is a black woman posed within a fabulously opulent 1970s interior. During Ingres time, it was more common to see a black figure in a subservient and inferior role, as in Manet’s Olympia, and the white woman as an object to gaze upon (the setting for both the aforementioned paintings is a brothel). Where these signify submissiveness, hers signify power and confidence. So, while it’s obvious that her work is visually captivating, it also makes you think and question the world, which truly great art should always do. –Shannon
Artist: Mickalene Thomas
About: Born in 1971, Mickalene is a New York-based artist hailing from Camden, New Jersey. She graduated from Pratt Institute with a BFA and received her MA in Fine Arts from Yale University. She is represented by Lehmann Maupin in New York, Susanne Vielmetter in Los Angeles and Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Paris.
Work: Mickalene’s work is characterized by colorful portraits and still-lives often created with non-traditional materials such as rhinestones, glitter and felt. Her multilayered work predominantly depicts African-American women, and mines themes such as power, beauty and femininity with an aesthetic that calls to mind the Blaxploitation genre of the 1970s. She is heavily influenced by her academic, art historical background and though she creates work in different types of media, she always begins from her roots as a painter.
More: You can read more about Mickalene here, here, and here.