Mickalene Thomas, known for her large-scale, multi-textured, and rhinestone-encrusted paintings of domestic interiors and portraits, has also identified the photographic image as a defining touchstone for her practice. Thomas first began to photograph herself and her mother as a student at Yale—a pivotal experience for her as an artist.
Image above: ©Mickalene Thomas, La leçon d'amour, 2008 / Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
While working across multiple series, much of her photographic work functions as a personal act of deconstruction and reappropriation—both of images she has created herself and images she has singled out as influence. With each series, she grapples with and asserts new definitions of beauty and inspiration. Thomas’s portraits draw equally from 1970s black-is-beautiful images of women such as supermodel Beverly Johnson and actress Vonetta McGee; Édouard Manet’s odalisque figures; and the mise-en-scène studio portraiture of James Van Der Zee and Malick Sidibé, to mention a few. Perhaps of greatest importance, however, this collection of portraits and staged scenes reflects a very personal community of inspiration as well—a collection of muses that includes Thomas herself, her mother, and her friends and lovers, emphasizing the communal and social aspects of art-making and creativity that pervade her work. The accompanying Aperture publication, Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs, is the first to gather together her various approaches to photography, including portraits, collages, Polaroids, and other processes.
Image above: ©Mickalene Thomas, Racquel #6, 2013/2015 / Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The idea of communities of inspiration will be further carried out via tête-à-tête, an installation curated by Mickalene Thomas of work from photographers and key images which have inspired her. This will include those from older generations of artists, to those by more contemporary artists who are part of her generation or younger, and may in turn find inspiration in Thomas’s own practice. Artists in tête-à-tête include Derrick Adams, Renée Cox, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Deana Lawson, Zanele Muholi, Malick Sidibé, Xaviera Simmons, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.
Image above: ©Mickalene Thomas, Quanikah Goes Up, 2001/2005 / Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Aperture’s exhibitions are funded in part by an award from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Charina Endowment Fund. Additional funding for this exhibition is provided by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.