Mickalene Thomas Claims Her Space Within the Frame

There's something really special and different about Mickalene Thomas’s art. An African-American contemporary artist and filmmaker from New Jersey, she studied at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2000, and later received her Master of Fine Arts from the Yale University School of Art in 2002.

Mickalene’s work encompasses a range of mediums, including painting, photography, and video installations. She explores issues of identity, representation, and gender, and draws on popular culture and art history. She is best known for her large-scale paintings that feature complex, multi-layered compositions and include bold patterns, bright colors, and glitter.

One of her most important works is A Little Taste Outside of Love, a series of six large-scale portraits of black women, which she created in 2007. The series pays homage to the 1970s Blaxploitation era and features images of powerful, glamorous women who challenge stereotypes and celebrate black femininity. The portraits have been exhibited in numerous museums and galleries around the world and have established Mickalene as a leading figure in contemporary art.

Three of her pieces are in the Clark Collection. Madame Mama Bush (2012) is a large format photograph depicting Mickalene’s mother and muse, Sandra, at the artist’s studio. The piece represents a fundamental shift in the way black female bodies are visualized. According to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, her pose and profile “claim the space within the frame as hers alone.”

Everyone Loves Kalenda (2016) is another of her empowering portraits of black women that celebrate their beauty. Galerie describes her art as inspired by the works of European impressionists such as Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet, adding that “she rewrites the white-male-dominated history of art” through ironic appropriation.

Dior Lady Art #3 (2018) is a reimagined version of the classic Dior Lady bag. The piece was made for the third edition of the Dior Lady Art project, for which the fashion house invited artists from around the world, and, for the first time, only women, to reinterpret the Lady Dior bag.

In an interview, Thomas said she gets her inspiration from love, life and sometimes pain. “Collage is a huge part of my practice,” she said. “What I wanted to do was take all these different materials and possibilities and collage them together. When you’re holding the bag in your hand, you actually feel the studs of the rhinestones…the sequins…the stitching of the bag. I wanted all of that to be on the surface in this really elegant way. And I think that’s what Dior represents: elegance.”

What I admire about her work is that she brings a whole new perspective to the table. Her ideas are fresh and unexpected. Read more about Mickalene and the themes that run through her work and her commitment to being joyful here.

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