Biography of Mickalene Thomas
Best known for her paintings made of rhinestones, acrylic and enamel, Mickalene Thomas draws on her in-depth study of art history and her fascination with popular culture to create a contemporary vision of female sexuality, beauty and Black Power. Constructing complex portraits, landscapes and interiors, the African-American artist aims is to subtly confront our ideas about what is feminine and what defines women.
Mickalene Thomas was born in New Jersey, in 1971, where she was raised by her mother and long-time muse, the former model Sandra “Mama Bush” Bush. As a child, Mickalene Thomas would be exposed to drug abuse, and would face difficulties dealing with queer identity in a relatively conservative society. Such experiences would greatly inform her later work. She would then complete a BFA and an MFA at the Pratt Institute and the Yale School of Art respectively. Following this, Mickalene Thomas moved to New York city where she continues to work today.
Mickalene Thomas’s subjects are virtually always women of color. Some of her pieces, inspired in composition by classical European artists such as Gustave Courbet or Edouard Manet, have been perceived as attempts to reshape the prevalent male-dominated art historical cannon. The women in her works are depicted in assertive, unapologetic and often provocative poses. Equally, her women are often naked, overweight, or have their afros flowing freely, representing Mickalene Thomas’s questioning of the ideologies of beauty that society impose on black women.
Her multi-media Odalisque series (2007) is perhaps her most celebrated artistic endeavor. A comment on what was essentially the soft pornography of 18th century French colonialists; Mickalene Thomas places women of color as the central figures of these works in order to highlight the inherent racism which she believes has long existed in the art world. Another acclaimed work was La leçon d'amour (2008), which explored African-American social awareness and same-sex sexuality—a deeply personal work.
Mickalene Thomas’ work can be seen in various collections across the United States, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, and Whitney Museum of American Art, all in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Art Institute of Chicago. Mickalene Thomas made a name for herself in the music world when she collaborated with Solange (Beyoncé’s sister) on an EP in 2013, and equally gained recognition in the film world when her film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman debuted on premium American TV network HBO in 2014, having run regularly since.