Mickalene Thomas – Origin of the Universe

Posted filed underShows, USA, Women.

Mickalene Thomas
Brooklyn artist Mickalene Thomas is best known for her elaborate, collage-inspired paintings, embellished with rhinestones, enamel, and colorful acrylics. Her depictions of African American women explore a spectrum of black female beauty and sexual identity while constructing images of femininity and power. Origin of the Universe, Thomas’s first solo museum exhibition (until January 20, 2013 at the Brooklyn Museum), highlights recent bodies of work that examine interior and exterior environments in relation to the female figure. Their settings are often inspired by her 1970s childhood.

Thomas’s production is informed by the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, still life, and the female nude. She combines careful borrowings from historical painting with contemporary popular culture, taking cues from such artists as Romare Bearden, Gustave Courbet, David Hockney, Édouard Manet, and Henri Matisse. In combining traditional genres with African American female subjects, Thomas makes a case for opening up the conventional parameters of art history and culture. Among the pieces on view are contemporary riffs on Courbet’s Origin of the World and Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe. Seventy-five of the ninety featured works were added for the Brooklyn presentation. An entrance-gallery mural, a film about Thomas’s mother, and installations of furnished domestic interiors were created specifically for this show.

Mickalene Thomas received her BFA from Pratt Institute in 2000, and her MFA from Yale University in 2002 and currently lives and works in New York. Her depictions of African American women explore notions of black female celebrity and identity while romanticizing ideas of femininity and power. Reminiscent of 70s style Blaxploitation, the subjects in Thomas’ paintings radiate sexuality. Women in provocative poses sprawl across the picture plane and are surrounded by kitschy decorative patterns inspired by her childhood. Her portrait of Michelle Obama was the first individual portrait done of the First Lady and was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery’s Americans Now show.

Thomas’ works, in particular the Odalisque series (2007), have been interpreted as “investigating the artist-model relationship [...] but from an updated perspective of female inter-subjectivity and same-sex desire (La Leçon d’amour, 2008)”. Thomas has restaged themes and symbolism with a long lineage in Western art in her references to the Odalisque representation of women in exotic settings. More recently, she has experimented with institutional images, in FBI/Serial Portraits (2008), based on mug shots of African-American women.

Mickalene Thomas has had exhibitions at Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit; The Renaissance Society in Chicago; Dumbo Arts Center in Brooklyn Studio Museum in Harlem in New York; and P.S.1/MoMA in Long Island City, NY. Mickalene Thomas was an artist in residence at Yale/Norfolk and The Studio Museum in Harlem. In 2011 She will be the artist in residence at The Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program in Giverny, France. In 2010 She completed a special project for the Museum of Modern Art entitled “Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires”, which was exhibited in the Modern Window of the museum and the lobby of MoMA PS1 as part of the On-Site series.

More info and images at The Arts Observer.

- Video art piece “ReVay,” from Mickalene Thomas, as featured in the MTV video series “Art Breaks.”

Mickalene Thomas Studio Visit

Shortly before Mickalene Thomas’s first major museum show “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe” opened at the Brooklyn Museum, ARTINFO visited her studio in Brooklyn, New York.

The Making of Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe at the Santa Monica Museum of Art