Visual Arts

Mickalene Thomas

2017

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Acclaimed Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas creates arresting portraits in a variety of media, variously depicting her sitters through paintings, photographs, collages, tableaux installations, and videos meant to reveal how gender and identity are constructed, upheld, and mediated.

Culling from art history, media, and popular culture, she produces work that deconstructs and lays bare the highly charged connections among sitter, artist, and viewer. The sitters—almost exclusively women of color—who recur in Thomas’s compositions often convey a spirit of strength and self-confidence, whether depicted in the mode of classically composed 19th-century odalisques, assured Afro-adorned vixens of blaxploitation films, or a powerful maternal figure.Across this archetypal array, it is both the contradictions and the kinships that make the black female body such fertile terrain for Thomas’s ongoing investigations. By casting herself, her late mother, and other formidable women in her life—lovers, friends, and celebrities—as models, muses, and collaborators, she particularizes her distinctive oeuvre of portraiture. In Thomas’s own words, “The person who has that authority of the gaze is always the sitter. I think the sitter’s the most powerful person who resides in that space of how they’re going to deliver the gaze.”

Thomas’s residency project at the Wex is still evolving. It will culminate in fall 2018 with the presentation of a major exhibition of paintings and related works being organized by Senior Curator of Exhibitions Michael Goodson.