Fine Art Focus: Mickalene Thomas

by Shannon Grant

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.

Image sources above and below: Sartle, Art Tattler, Interview Magazine, Art Slant, and Afropunk, (Portrait photo by Frederike Helwig)

A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007

11-Mickalene-Thomas_-Din-Une-Tres-Belle-Negresse-1 Din, une très belle négresse #2, 2012

13-Mickalene-Thomas_-Qusuquzah-Une-Tres-Belle-Negresse-2 Qusuquzah, une très belle négresse #2, 2011-12

DesignSponge_FineArtFocus Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires, 2010

o-MICKALENE-THOMAS-QUSUQUZAH-STANDING-SIDEWAYS-facebook Qusuquzah Standing Sideways, 2012

img-mickalene5_105035151489 Sandra: She’s a Beauty Standing, 2012

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