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Museum Exhibition

L'Ecole des Beaux Art...
Mickalene Thomas: Femme au divan II

July 5 – August 31, 2014

museum exhibition

George Eastman House
Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman

June 20 – October 19, 2014

Artist Project

Mickalene Thomas
Decópolis: The Talent of Others

February 6 - 24, 2013
The Proposition, New York

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Artist Bio

Mickalene Thomas

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Ocula

December 20, 2016

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Artomity

December 15, 2016

News

What Happens When Artists Take Over an Upper East Side Mansion W Magazine

April 5 2016

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Mickalene Thomas on Muses, Models, and Mentors Interview Magazine

March 10 2016

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‘Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs’ and ‘Tête-à-Tête’What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week New York Times

February 11 2016

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Mickalene Thomas on Her Photographic Muses Vogue

February 6 2016

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Kindred spirits: Mickalene Thomas' collaborative photography at Aperture Wallpaper* Magazine

February 2 2016

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In Mickalene Thomas’s awe-inspiring portraits, a meaningful reflection of black women in art New York Times

January 29 2016

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Tour Mickalene Thomas's Brooklyn Townhouse Vogue

January 6 2016

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Panel Discussion including Mickalene Thomas Art Basel Miami Beach 2015

December 3 2015

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Mickalene Thomas Receives 2015 United States Artist Fellowship Award

November 10 2015

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Beautiful Photos Of Women Take On Stereotypes Through High Art Refinery29

November 4 2015

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The New York Times

July 18, 2014

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Time Out New York

July 7, 2014

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Interview Magazine

June 26, 2014

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Huffington Post

June 26, 2014

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New York Observer / Gallerist NY

June 20, 2014

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American Art

Spring 2014

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Vogue

February 17, 2014

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The New York Times

June 14, 2013

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Phaidon

June 13, 2013

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Whitewall

June 12, 2013

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Artspace

June 7, 2013

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Wallpaper* Brooklyn queen of bling Mickalene Thomas bedazzles with her rhinestone-studded canvases

June 2013

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ARTnews

April 2013

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Opening Ceremony

March 20, 2013

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Artforum

February 14, 2013

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ICA Boston Mickalene Thomas

December 12, 2012 - April 7, 2013

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ANP Quarterly

Vol 2 / No 7

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The Wall Street Journal

November 23, 2012

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The New Yorker

November 12, 2012

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Financial Times Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, Brooklyn Museum, New York

November 7, 2012

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The New York Observer

November 5, 2012

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Artforum

November 2012

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Modern Painters

October 2012

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Brooklyn Museum, NY Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe

28 September – 20 January 2012

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The New York Times

September 28, 2012

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The Wall Street Journal

September 27, 2012

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The Wall Street Journal

September 24, 2012

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The New York Times

September 21, 2012

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Time Out New York

September 13-19, 2012

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W Magazine

September 2012

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Vogue

September 2012

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New York Magazine

August 27, 2012

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Art Review

May 31, 2012

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Artinfo

May 15, 2012

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Huffington Post

April 25, 2012

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Los Angeles Times

April 21, 2012

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The New York Times

March 30, 2012

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Artforum

December 31, 2011

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Artforum

December 1, 2011

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Velvet Magazine

October 31, 2011

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The New York Times

October 20, 2011

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Loop 21

October 18, 2011

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The New Yorker

October 7, 2011

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The Village Voice

October 5, 2011

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Photograph Magazine

October 5, 2011

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Whitewall

September 29, 2011

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Artinfo

September 26, 2011

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Arude

September 13, 2011

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Modern Painters

August 31, 2011

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Paper

August 31, 2011

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Bomb

May 31, 2011

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Bomb Video Mickalene Thomas: Behind the Scenes

Summer 2011

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Life and Times

May 23, 2011

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Art in America

February 17, 2011

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Artnews

December 31, 2010

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NBC Washington

August 22, 2010

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A Sky Filled With Shooting Stars

July 29, 2010

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V Magazine In The Flesh

April 30, 2010

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New York Observer A Window on Art: Mickalene Thomas' Shiny Sex-Appeal Paintings

April 26, 2010

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Weltkunst

January 31, 2010

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NY Arts

August 31, 2009

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Time Out New York

April 23, 2009

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Artforum

April 20, 2009

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The New York Times

April 12, 2009

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Nylon

March 31, 2009

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Art + Auction In the Studio

February 28, 2009

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Bomb Number 107 / Spring 2009

February 28, 2009

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Wynwood

November 30, 2008

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Wound Issue 4 / Autumn 2008

September 30, 2008

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Trace

March 31, 2008

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Whitewall

December 31, 2007

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Modern Painters

November 30, 2007

Mickalene Thomas on Muses, Models, and Mentors

Interview Magazine


Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas is known for her large-scale, rhinestone-encrusted, highly stylized collaged portraits of everyday black women, whom she calls her muses. However, in a new solo show entitled "Mickalene Thomas: Mentors, Muses, and Celebrities," opening today at the Aspen Art Museum, Thomas turns to black celebrity women found in films and on the stage to explore the relationships of black sisterhood.

 

"The inspiration behind the show is mainly love," Thomas says. "I was thinking of how, as a woman of color, I have developed to be the woman that I am and how I see myself in others." She then adds, "We look at each other in this sisterhood way and it defines who we are—our sense of confidence, our sense of worth."

 

When she began thinking of images and films that portray women of color, Steven Spielberg's 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple immediately came to mind. For Thomas, the complicated and liberating portrayal of a forged sisterhood, found in both the film and book, between Ms. Celie and Shug Avery reflects an enduring story about black women everywhere. It's a relationship that depicts sexuality, femininity, and power—all of which are themes consistently found in the artist's photography and painting.

 

For the collage painting Sister: Shug Avery's Breakfast, Thomas extracts an image from the film of Ms. Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg, during the scene in which Celie sits, hands resting on her face, watching as her husband attempts to make his mistress, Shug Avery, breakfast. "I was interested in making the audience see these women not just as characters, but as signifiers," Thomas explains. In the exhibition, she continues, "they are no longer characters, but representations of women throughout different generations."

 

Further inspiration for the new video and film works on view was gathered from an Eartha Kitt performance of Angelitos Negros, or, Little Black Angels (1948). Dressed in all black against a white backdrop, staring into a camera as tears slide down her face, Kitt sings in a way that questions both the cannon of history and representation: "How don't you paint our skin if you put love in your art?"

 

"Eartha Kitt is passionately singing and speaking about the lack of positive black images in the world," explains Thomas, who had her first solo museum exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 2012. "I was sort of like, ‘This song is everything!' It's so timely and it says everything that I am trying to say. I'm putting these black angels out there—I'm doing it."

 

Last month, as she was putting the finishing touches on the artworks now in Aspen, we met with the artist in her Brooklyn studio.

 

ANTWAUN SARGENT: In what ways do you think The Color Purple embodies the relationships you explore in this exhibition?

 

MICKALENE THOMAS: I started reading The Color Purple again and thinking about what scenes were very profound and represented pivotal moments where the characters really transformed. For me, that was the relationship between Celie and Shug Avery—how Celie saw the potential of herself through someone else and how that relationship gave her strength, how she learned of her own beauty by Shug holding a mirror up to her face and saying, "Look at yourself and understand your beauty." Then this love affair developed between the two, a love affair of two women who admired each other for their differences, strengths, creativity, and talent. They persevered in their own way. What Shug did for Celie, Celie did for Shug in a whole different way.

 

SARGENT: So the collaged portraits in the exhibition function as mirrors of womanhood?

 

THOMAS: Yes, I'm using these scenes by abstracting them from the film and claiming and presenting them as these mirror images of who we are and how we related one another. In Ms. Celie's Blues, I show the moment when they are at the club and Shug is singing to Celie, and she is siting at the table like a little girl feeling lost and out of place. Then suddenly the room parts because Shug is focused on her and she is saying, basically, "You are everything." For me, that moment goes toward philosophies like [Jacques] Lacan's notions of beauty, which basically says we don't necessarily see ourselves until we look into a mirror; we can be those mirrors when we see ourselves in each other and have a sense of validation.

 

SARGENT: In what ways do Celie and Shug hold that mirror up to you?

 

THOMAS: I can understand their relationship. I can relate to both of these women for different reasons. I've seen myself in different aspects of my life as a Celie, where my sense of self becomes insecure in some ways, like growing up, not feeling as beautiful as most people, and how my levels of desires were prevented by how people related to me.

 

SARGENT: In what other women do you find the relationship that Celie and Shug Avery shared?

 

THOMAS: In the film Singers and Comedians that I am showing, there are comedians and singers that range from Moms Mabley, Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Whitney Houston, and Eartha Kitt to Whoopi Goldberg herself—all women who I grew up with and was inspired by because of my mother and grandmother. In the film, I am projecting two channel screens, where on one side it's the comedians and on the other side it's the signers. They are connected in the sense of their lyrics and sound. It's not a cacophony of sound; we exacted their lyrics and lines, and together the thread of the music and the jokes tell this story of being a black woman. It's sort of like, who is a black woman? What is a black woman? The film ends with Eartha Kitt asking, "Why aren't there any black angels?"

 

SARGENT: You also use laughter in Comedians and Singers as an expression of black womanhood.

 

THOMAS: That's what I love. They use the language of laughter, which is sort of a male dominated platform, to share their lives. I remember when I first saw Whoopi Goldberg doing standup and she was wearing a sheet on her head, basically pretending to be this little white girl with long luxurious blonde hair. Everyone can relate to that. It's an oral history of black women's lives through laughter. Yeah, it was funny, but it was also horrific because that's how we define beauty.

 

SARGENT: Do you see telling a story of being a black woman as one of your roles as an artist?

 

THOMAS: I hope, yeah. I actually didn't see that as one of my roles until it was pointed out to me by Carrie Mae Weems. She and I had a conversation, and she was like, "Mickalene, I really think you need to recognize what you are doing. You need to own it." I knew what I was doing, but I never really considered the magnitude of how my images were transformative to people.

 

SARGENT: If had to explain it, what do you think your images have done in the world?

 

THOMAS: I think what I have done is claimed the space and pushed it forward as much as I can in relationship to who I am and how I live my life. I have used my opportunity to allow these images to be seen. It's like what Beyoncé is doing with Formation: She has a major platform and I am giving her high fives and saying, "Yes, we have been needing you to do this for a long time." So that's what I am doing. I am saying, "Here's this opportunity to see women differently."

 

SARGENT: How is the series of the screen tests of your muses different than Singers and Comedians?

 

THOMAS: The women in the screen tests are the women I generally work with, but they are not posing for one of my photo shoots. They are natural, they've come as they are, and they are just sitting in the space looking into the camera.

 

SARGENT: Did you learn something new about your muses in letting them be without direction?

 

THOMAS: It depends on the woman. With some of them I learned that they felt the need to portray someone when they were in their natural form. With others, when they were dressed up, they became more of themselves. It's like they see themselves in the lens, and the lens becomes the mirror, and for me that is very beautiful. I grew up with a lot of brothers and I don't have any sisters, so for me it's really important to develop my sisterhood. It's something I've always coveted.

 

SARGENT: There's a video of you nude as an Odalisque...

 

THOMAS: That's about black feminism and vulnerability and me giving you everything. Here I am, the artist, the person, the black woman, and the stereotype. I'm using myself and it has nothing to do with my muses or other women. It has to do with me. You see parts of my body moving, very collage like, flashing, and not speaking, just laying on a couch, looking out at the viewer.

 

SARGENT: What attracted you to video for this show?

 

THOMAS: This show allowed me to think about video and film as a tool of expression for portraiture. I got really excited about finding new ways of using video, and the immediacy is different, in a way, than painting and photography. The creativity comes with the editing. You can layer and cut and paste. I really love that it's like another form of making my smaller collages but in video form.

 

SARGENT: The grid format used throughout the films and videos seem to also continue your exploration of collage.

 

THOMAS: I'm using the grid as formation. I wanted a relationship between the paintings and videos so that way when you are looking at the videos there's a direct relationship to the paintings. I think in grids there's a multiplicity of many parts that make up a whole. Things can be moved around, they are not fixed, there's still a notion of collage—the painting is collaged together. It's about constructing the image.

 

For me, these works are meant for the viewer to sit and be with—not just walk in and out. The sound and lyrics are all metaphors of messages, the visuals are another layer, the intimacy of being in the space is an added layer, and the two-dimensional objects are yet another layer. So you are able to be consumed by the space and be with the women and try to ascertain these relationships.