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Artist Highlight: Mickalene Thomas

By Larissa Ramey, Content Strategy Intern

Mickalene Thomas (1971) is an African American contemporary visual artist, best known for her complex multidisciplinary works. Combining her collage-inspired, adorned, elaborate paintings depicting the complexities of Black and female identities within the Western canon. Thomas states, “…It all goes back to my mother, her charisma, it really started thinking about women like her, and I wanted to celebrate Black femininity and that sexuality in a different way by claiming the space…”.

Thomas’s mixed-media works are celebrated for their ability to occupy and command space while being able to dissect their subjectivity and aesthetic languages, and offer the viewer to be surrounded by the art through films, installations, photographs, and paintings. Her aim within her works is to explore the spectrum of Black femininity and power with an intentional discourse on how Black women are seen through art, art historical, and contemporary lenses.

Annie Leibovitz, Mickalene Thomas, Brooklyn, New York, 2022. Photo courtesy of the artist ©Annie Leibovitz.

“To see yourself and for others to see you is a form of validation, and I’m interested in that very mysterious and mystical line that is how we relate to each other in the world,” Thomas states. In many bodies of work, Mickalene is inspired by popular culture and art history to expand upon themes of domestic life, fashion, representation, culture, beauty, race, and sexuality. Each work contains a narrative about the artist’s exploration and contemporary vision of personhood. Mickalene has been revered as a prolific artist of our time for the ability to join the intricacies and conversations on Black identity and culture through multidisciplinary stages. Especially in the realm of being a Black female artist, the energy both Mickalene and her work bring to the viewer allows for a new perspective and engagement.

Mickalene Thomas, Guernica (Resist #3), 2021, rhinestones, acrylic, and oil on canvas mounted on wood panel, 83 x 108 x 2 1/8 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2022.8. © Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“I try to select my materials so that the paintings appear transformative; I’m conveying strength, beauty, power, and vulnerability.” Mickalene has used items from disposable cameras to acrylic, rhinestones, and glitter while adding these materials to her canvases, photographs, and films. She makes a point to dedicate many of the series’ diverse aesthetic to the idea, “I have always been someone who gravitates towards non-traditional materials…”. Thomas has a way of communicating intimacy through her muses and collaborations of audio, environment, and use of assemblage.

“I really believe that as an artist everything you do, even drawing a simple line, will make sense to you at some point in your process.” Mickalene’s works are on view in the contemporary gallery here at Crystal Bridges. Where you can find her outside of her practice, Thomas is a native of New Jersey, and lives and works in New York as an educator, curator, and mentor. Her work is on view in the contemporary art gallery at Crystal Bridges.

Ready to see Mickalene Thomas’s work for yourself? Visit our Plan a Visit page to learn more about Campus Parking and start planning your next visit to the museum.

Artist Highlight: Mickalene Thomas
Mickalene Thomas

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