Thomas’ 2010 Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires
Photo: Courtesy Artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Seductive and Subversive Art of Mickalene Thomas

The New York artist rewrites European art history with her empowering portraits of black women
Photo by Victoria Will
Mickalene Thomas Photo: Victoria Will

Over the past decade, African-American artist, photographer, and filmmaker Mickalene Thomas has experienced tremendous success. Her collage-like paintings include such materials as rhinestones, enamel, sequins, and glitter, and have been very desirable to both museums and collectors. Her subjects are almost always black women, and her compositions are inspired by the works of classical European artists such as Edouard Manet, Gustave Courbet, and Francisco de Goya. This ironic appropriation could be her way of rewriting the so-called white-male–dominated history of art. Thomas’ portraits empower black women and celebrate their culture and beauty. The assertive and unapologetic poses of her subjects also exaggerate the female gaze. Thomas’ mother, Sandra “Mama Bush” Bush, was a recurring model, subject, and muse until she died in 2012. Another important aspect of Thomas’ works is her interiors, which she considers another part of the collage. Their styles reflect the 1970s domestic aesthetic—inspired by The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement she came across at Goodwill, and refers to when creating these settings, and because they are similar to the surroundings in which she grew up. Thomas’ works are held in collections all over the world.


Courtesy artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Courtesy Artist, Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Born: 1971, Camden, New Jersey
Lives: Brooklyn, New York
2016, Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and Tête-à-Tête, Aperture Foundation, New York, New York
2014, I Was Born to Do Great Things, Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
2014, Tête de Femme, Lehmann Maupin, New York, New York
Lehmann Maupin, New York
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles, California
Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris
Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe by Lisa Melandri (Ed.)—Santa Monica Museum
of Art, 2012
Come With Me Now, I Need You, 2007; Acrylic, rhinestones, and enamel on panel, 72 x 60 inches;
Sotheby’s, November 12, 2015;
Sale 472, $145,000
Quesequzah, Une Très Belle Négresse #3, 2012; Acrylic, rhinestones, and oil on panel,
90 x 80 inches; Christie’s, September 23, 2014;
Sale 2875, $106,250


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