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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

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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

Art + Auction

In the Studio


With her '70s-inflected iconography and striking portraits of women, the artist is reinventing the grand tradition of painting.

By Meghan Dailey

"THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS that you have a crazy fascination with, that just move you," says Mickalene Thomas. "And wood grain does that for me-I think it's because I grew up around it. It's very nostalgic." One corner of the 38-year-old artist's Brooklyn studio is a set designed like a I970s living room, complete with, yes, wood-paneled walls. In this stylized environment, accessorized with a rotating set of props - wicker furniture, record albums, shot glasses and silk flowers - Thomas photographs models wearing eye-catching outfits or in various states of undress, against vivid upholstery. (She has also re-created this room before, as an installation.) The photos are artworks in themselves as well as the starting point for her collages and rhinestone-encrusted paintings, all of which are the subject of her debut show at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery, in New York, from March 26 through May 2.

Thomas populates her pieces with sexy, assertive and beautiful African-American women. They make reference to pop culture and high art: girl wrestlers and disco queens, Pam Grier's blaxploitation characters as well as Matisse's odalisques and Romare Bearden's abstract figures set off against patchwork backgrounds.
Wearing dark work jeans and a blue plaid shirt, her hair in short dreads, Thomas projects a more down-to-earth style than the glamorous figures she depicts. Not that she can't play the part: Before she had anyone pose for her, she put herself in front of the camera. "I wanted to do it so I could understand the idea of dressing up or emulating icons. I had just turned 30, and I found an old photo of my mother. Her hair was in braids, and she had this leopard-print bathing suit on. I got the bathing suit from her and a wig and photographed myself in celebration of my birthday." Although this approach brings to mind the self-portrait masquerades enacted by Cindy Sherman in her "Untitled Film Stills," she says it was directly inspired by Jet magazine's Beauty of the Week feature - a housewife or college girl whose photo was published along with a little description of her hobbies, achievements and personal history.

Immersed as she was during her youth in the popular imagery of publications like Jet and Ebony and of '70s funk and soul music (some of her paintings are titled after songs), Thomas, who was raised by her mother in northern New Jersey, was also looking at fine art. "My mother put me in the Newark museum after-school program, and we took field trips to the Met. Art was something I had fun doing and was good at, but I wanted to be a lawyer." After high school she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she befriended many of the artists and musicians who formed a vibrant but relatively small creative community there. "It was easier to figure out what I wanted to do in a place like that than in New York," she says. A friend asked Thomas to join him on an art-therapy retreat. He didn't go, but she did and made "all of these crazy drawings" that to her surprise, became the basis of her portfolio. She was admitted to the San Francisco Art Institute but wanted to be closer to her family, so she applied and went to the Pratt Institute instead. By the time she graduated from the Brooklyn art school with a BFA, in 2000, she had made a lot of "sloppy but satisfying" abstract dot pictures. "Basically I made a painting a day. My professors weren't into them-I think they wanted something more minimal- but they got me into Yale!" she exclaims, laughing.

At Yale, Thomas experimented with various abstract and conceptual styles ("I was all over the place") and even imitated her mentor there, Mel Bochner, with some text paintings. After an unsatisfying phase using glitter, she began to incorporate rhinestones into her paintings. "It was a sense of landing home again," she says. "It was meditative, and there was more immediacy." This discovery - and that of photography, after the Yale faculty suggested she take a class in the medium - opened up her work.

The rhinestones, some are Swarovski crystal, are what define her paintings. She sets them like jewels in already bold floral and animal prints, creating a dazzling optical intensity and adding, through their sparkle, a sense of movement. She also uses them to outline the contours of the women's bodies and emphasize their most sensual features - lips, eyes - and parts that are usually concealed: nipples, the lines on the soles of their bare feet. "Oil painting was never satisfying to me," Thomas explains. "I always felt like I had to put something on it or it was never finished."

She buys the stones in bulk, having persuaded Margola, the longtime Garment District supply company, to give her a discount, and stores them, separated by color, in numerous clear plastic containers on shelves in her studio. The space, which is in a large building on an industrial street near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Clinton Hill, has an expanse of windows with a view of the traffic snaking along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. She walks here from her home, which is also in Clinton Hill, accompanied by Priscilla and Rocco, a pair of long-haired dachshunds that were gifts from her friend the painter and Yale graduate school classmate Kehinde Wiley.

With the pups settled into a cozy spot under a desk, Thomas approaches a worktable covered with stacks of snapshots and ornate-looking but cheap frames - materials for her new works. "I'm still playing with them," she says of the pieces, for which as many as eight picture frames are stacked around a snapshot, resulting in a kind of photo-sculpture. The layering technique she uses here corresponds to her larger, elaborate artistic process. Her paintings begin with creating the set and taking the photos, which are then printed, cut up and made into collages that she projects onto wood panels. After drawing the projected images onto the panels with pencil, she applies color employing Flashe, a vinyl-based paint, and something called I Shot, a shiny enamel used for detailing cars. Then, the rhinestones are glued on individually. The many steps are "what's really fun about my work," says Thomas, who uses the words fun and play a lot in the context of art making. "You have to have that excitement. Once that's gone it's really difficult to create something."

For the pieces in her show last November at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery, in Chicago (where her first solo exhibition was held, in 2006), Thomas decided to mix things up. "I wanted to focus the work around a tradition of painting," she says. "Of all the shows I've done, it's probably the most painterly." To this end, she applied the rhinestones more sparingly, as in the regal portrait of a seated woman, Din avec la main dans Ie miroir, 2008, and riffed on traditional genres with a selection of flower still lifes and even, surprisingly, a large-scale landscape that suggests a Hudson River School scene filtered through her funky brand of analytic abstraction. "She's layering history the way she layers fabric," says Hoffman. The gallery had sold about half the 2I paintings (priced from $20,000 up to $90,000, for the largest panels) by the end of the exhibition's run in January.

At the time of this studio visit, in late November, Thomas is between shows - her Rhona Hoffman exhibition having opened and her debut at Lehman Maupin still forthcoming - but the place is buzzing. "We have a lot to do," she says, explaining that she's just finished the photo shoots for the paintings for Lehman Maupin. Tacked up on one wall are a few digital prints of a woman in her early to mid 50s wearing a curve-revealing ensemble, turning to look over her shoulder. Thomas also took her and two other women to a photo booth. Those snapshots are the basis for A-E-I-O-U (And Sometimes Y), 2009, comprising 40 individual panels set with rhinestones against brightly colored backgrounds - a nod to Warhol's "Photo Booth" paintings.

Unlike her previous subjects, the models Thomas used this time seem to be posing for their own pleasure rather than the viewer's. "In her laughter she had a sense of freedom and excitement, of feeling alive," Thomas says of the woman in the prints. These models, one of whom is her mother, "have a different type of gaze," she adds, in part because they're not as young as those she typically shoots. Older women "exude their sensuality in a different way." Has anyone ever accused her of objectifying her subjects, whether young or old? "Yeah, I get that," she says. "But my work is about a sense of empowerment and celebration of self. Beauty, sexuality and sensuality - these are components of how we feel about ourselves."

"The visual presence of her works is so engaging," says dealer David Maupin. "But there's a lot of edginess too, because she photographs the women." The photo sessions, Thomas says, are collaborative, and the models "are often telling me what they want to do. If the women reveal a breast in the photo, I'm not asking them to do that. I tell them what I pose from Manet or something, and we go through the outfits." Certain sitters appear more than once, and one in particular, Maya, is the subject of all the paintings Thomas made for about three years. "My relationship with Maya was different because she was also my girlfriend," says Thomas. "It was a relationship between artist and muse." Her last portrait of her former partner, the monumental reclining nude A Little Taste Outside of Love, 2007, is prominently displayed in the Brooklyn Museum. It greets visitors as they approach a gallery of recent contemporary acquisitions and, appropriately, hangs adjacent to the entrance of the Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Thomas's work is also in the Rubell Family Collection, in Miami, and the Studio Museum Harlem, where she had a residency in 2002-03. Her work, Maupin says, is acquired by collectors from all over the world - Italian Princess Giulia Borghese is a fan - and although she rarely accepts commissions for portraits, she's doing one of Michaela Neumeister, a senior partner at Phillips de Pury & Company and the first white woman Thomas has painted.

Thomas is pleased with her recent creations and looking forward to what's next on the calendar. Later this spring, she'll have more new work at Suzanne Vielmetter Projects in Los Angeles. The artist's aspirations suggest she's thinking not just about the next commission or show but farther ahead, to how her work might fit into the canon. "I'm hoping my paintings are going to be part of art history," she says. "When you see an image in a book" - a female nude by Courbet, for example - "next to it you'll see a work by Mickalene Thomas."