Mickalene Thomas

Defiantly tender portraits by a powerhouse of contemporary art.

Mickalene Thomas (she/her) was born in 1971 in New Jersey, United States and is now based in Brooklyn.

Did you know?

Initially, Thomas planned to pursue pre-law and theatre arts, but in 1994 seeing Kitchen Table Series by Carrie Mae Weems convinced her to try art school. "It was the first time I saw work by an African-American female artist that reflected myself. It was probably one of the most formidable experiences.”

Museum Exhibitions

Solo exhibitions in museums around the world including the Baltimore Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, LACMA, The Met and MoMA.

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Collaborations with this artist

Practice overview

Mickalene Thomas enshrines Black womanhood within art history. Internationally celebrated artist for a multimedia approach to portraiture spanning collage, painting, assemblage, photography, installation and film, life itself and the canon of painting are her prime inspirations. Formal elements drawn from Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Pop Art and the Harlem Renaissance are used to portray women Thomas admires. These subjects of admiration are often friends and family members - with the artist’s mother as a regular feature - or prominent public figures like Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Intimate moments of queer sexuality are also shown, in a conscious effort to place queer Black identity within musuems and galleries.

Thomas’ artistic career began in the 1990s. As a student, oil paint was too expensive, so Thomas used a range of more affordable materials from craft shops which were typically regarded as ‘low art.’ The use of rhinestones (small plastic gems) became a staple in her practice. They also symbolised what prevails as a central philosophical concern in Thomas’ oeuvre - beauty. “I think beauty is very problematic. When you really unravel the historic notions of beauty, it’s not pretty. We’ve presented our images of women, people and men as beautiful objects for centuries. But to get to that place it’s from a very ugly place.” Over the past three decades, Thomas has done just as she set out to do - delivered a recalibrated vision of what is beautiful, and embedded her work and the women she paints within the rich tapestry of art history.

"The women I work with are powerhouses: their prowess is undeniable. I only hope to bring forth their true selves.”Mickalene Thomas