Mickalene Thomas

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Born Mickalene Leticia Thomas
Nationality American
Education Pratt Institute, Southern Cross University (Lismore, Australia) Yale University
Notable work HBO Film, "Happy Birthday To A Beautiful Woman"
Awards Anonymous Was A Woman Grant, Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant

Mickalene Thomas (born 1971) is an African-American feminist, socio-political artist and filmmaker known for her elaborate paintings adorned with rhinestones, enamel and colorful acrylics. She draws from art history and pop culture, particularly from the 1970s.


She 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.[1] 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.[2]

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)[3] 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 the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum in California,[4] the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit,[5] the Renaissance Society in Chicago,[6] Dumbo Arts Center in Brooklyn, Studio Museum in Harlem, and MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, New York.[7] Mickalene Thomas was an artist in residence at Yale/Norfolk and the Studio Museum in Harlem. In 2011 she was 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.[8] In September 2012, Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe debuted at the Brooklyn Museum, showcasing Thomas's most recent work. The title of her show references Gustave Courbet's 1866 painting The Origin of the World.[9]

Her short film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman was created for her exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. It is about Sandra Bush, her mother and longtime muse. Sandra talks about careers, relationships, beauty, and her fatal illness. It made its television debut on HBO on February 24, 2014, and has run regularly since.[10]

She work is held in many collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art,[11] the National Portrait Gallery, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.


Video art[edit]


  1. ^ Dailey, Meghan, "In the Studio: Mickalene Thomas", Art + Auction, March 2009.
  2. ^ Capps, Kriston. 1st First Lady Portrait in D.C.. NBC Washington. August 22, 2010
  3. ^ Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed. (2008). Art Now, Vol. 3: A cutting-edge selection of today's most exciting artists. Taschen. p. 452. ISBN 9783836505116. 
  4. ^ Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum
  5. ^ Museum of Contemporary Art
  6. ^ The Renaissance Society
  7. ^ P.S.1/MoMA
  8. ^ Laster, Paul. A Window on Art. The New York Observer. April 21, 2010.
  9. ^ Gonzalez, Desi (November 2012). "Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  10. ^ http://news.artnet.com/art-world/mickalene-thomas-happy-birthday-to-a-beautiful-woman-premieres-on-hbo-1579
  11. ^ http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=37620

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