Mickalene Thomas USA, b. 1971


Mickalene Thomas is one of the most influential artists working today. Her innovative practice has yielded one of the most instantly recognizable, and widely celebrated, aesthetic languages within contemporary visual culture, influencing not only other artists, but filmmakers, advertisers, brand ambassadors, fashion designers, and decorators around the world.


Thomas has radically redefined what it means to be a global, multi-disciplinary visual artist. Not only do her masterful mixed-media paintings, sculptures, and installations command every space they occupy, eloquently dissecting the intersecting complexities of Black and female identity within the canon of Western art history, she has also expanded her vanguard studio practice to include curation, filmmaking, and theater. From the award winning I was born to do great things—her inaugural solo exhibition with Kavi Gupta—to Mickalene Thomas: A Moment’s Pleasure, the spectacular, three-year long, two-story installation that transformed the east lobby of the Baltimore Museum of Art, to her recent debut as a Broadway producer for the seven-time Tony Award nominated production of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, Thomas’s work has become an undeniable force within the contemporary art field, and an indispensable inspiration to younger generations of artists.


Thomas's elaborate rhinestone, acrylic, and enamel paintings are among her most renowned bodies of work. Informed by her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life, these works expand common definitions of beauty and introduce a complex vision of what it means to be a woman.


“By fusing historical influences with pop and personal significance, I aim to blur the distinction of object and subject, concrete and abstract, real and imaginary,” says Thomas. “Indeed, the modes through which culture serves to shape perception across social, spatial, and ideological platforms is fundamental to my investigations. Through painting, photography, collage, and installation, my strategies include appropriation and pastiche, whereby the repurposing of formal and conceptual artistic iconology is developed in order to re-evaluate its context. Here, my study of French Impressionism, European modernism and pop art plays a formative influence—wherein pioneers including Bearden, Neel, Picasso, Manet, and Warhol continue to activate my interest and approach.”


Thomas considers the subjects that populate her images to be similarly influential, however their significance is often intimate or personal.


“Family, friends, and lovers feature throughout my oeuvre,” Thomas says, “subsisting as powerful figures that serve to characterize the subjective, and often otherworldly, propositions that I envision.”


Thomas has been awarded multiple prizes and grants, including the USA Francie Bishop Good & David Horvitz Fellow; Anonymous Was A Woman Award; Brooklyn Museum Asher B. Durand Award; and the Timehri Award for Leadership in the Arts. Major exhibitions of Thomas' work include Mickalene Thomas: Better Nights, Bass Miami Beach Contemporary Art Museum, FL,  Mickalene Thomas: A Moment’s Pleasure, Baltimore Museum of Art, MD, Mickalene Thomas: Do I Look Like a Lady?, MOCA, Los Angeles, CA; Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, Canada; Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Permanent Collection Highlights American Art, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Mickalene Thomas, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA and I Was Born to do Great Things, Kavi Gupta, Chicago. Thomas’ work is in numerous international public and private collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; MoMA PS1, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Yale University Art Collection, New Haven, CT; and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. She earned her BFA from the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, and her MFA from Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.