Urgent Museum Notice

Mickalene Thomas

A woman with a dark skin tone and short black hair stands behind a large table covered in a painting. Her dark clothing stands out against the rich blues, greens, reds and yellows of the room she is in. Her left hand rests on a stool covered in red paint.

Photo © Lamont Hamilton, 2011; Courtesy of the artist

Born in 1971

Inspired by art history as well as popular culture, Thomas’s works allude to sources ranging from 19th-century French painting to 1970s Blaxploitation films. Her acknowledged influences include Edouard Manet and Henri Matisse, as well as Romare Bearden and Pam Grier.

Thomas bases her paintings on her own photographs, which she reproduces in rhinestones, collage, acrylic paint, and enamel. Her African American protagonists sometimes mimic poses from Western painting tradition, especially those of white female nudes. But they do so while lounging in outlandishly patterned interiors and exuding an aggressive sexuality.

Thomas earned her BFA in painting from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and her MFA in painting from Yale University, though she initially pursued a career in law. Her work is exhibited nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions, and she has held several residencies, including the Versailles Munn Artists Program in Giverny, France.

Thomas was also honored with creating the first individual portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, completed in 2008.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Mickalene Thomas
  • Birth

    Camden, New Jersey, 1971

Works by Mickalene Thomas

A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y

Mickalene Thomas explores and expands traditional notions of female identity and beauty through her rhinestone-encrusted depictions of African American women. The artist draws inspiration from art history and popular culture, so her imagery is as likely to reference nineteenth-century painting as blaxploitation films of the seventies. A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, originally exhibited as part of a forty-panel installation at Lehmann Maupin gallery...

A mixed-media artwork renders the contours of an African American woman’s facial features, shoulders, and long, straight hair in black rhinestones on a glossy, bubble-gum pink panel. The woman faces forward, gazing outward. Some rhinestone facets glint with reflected light.