Mickalene Thomas makes paintings, collages, photography, video, and installations that draw on art history and popular culture to create a contemporary vision of female sexuality, beauty, and power.
Blurring the distinction between object and subject, concrete and abstract, real and imaginary, Thomas constructs complex portraits, landscapes, and interiors in order to examine how identity, gender, and sense of self are informed by the ways women are represented in art and popular culture. Rhinestones—the artist’s signature material and a symbol of femininity—serve as an added layer of meaning and a metaphor of artifice. Thomas uses rhinestones to shade and accentuate specific elements of each painting, while subtly confronting our assumptions about what is feminine and what defines women.
Thomas has drawn inspiration from multiple artistic periods and cultural influences throughout Western art history, particularly the early modernists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edouard Manet, and Romare Bearden. She models her figures on the classic poses and abstract settings popularized by these modern masters as a way to reclaim agency for women who have been presented as objects to be desired or subjugated. Though Thomas draws from a number of time periods and genres, her use of pattern and domestic spaces often references various periods throughout the 1960s to the 1980s. This was a time of immense social and political conflict, change, and transformation—the civil rights movement, the black is beautiful movement, and the second wave of feminism—during which many women, particularly African-Americans, rejected and redefined traditional standards of beauty.
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