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Multidisciplinary artist Mickalene Thomas’ portraits critically deconstruct accepted definitions of beauty, race, and gender, specifically in relation to black women.  Known for her monumental, rhinestone-encrusted paintings of domestic interiors and female subjects, Thomas identifies photography as playing a central role within her practice. She first began to photograph herself and her mother during her time as an MFA student at Yale and has since moved to photographing friends and lovers. 


Drawing from diverse sources, including the nudes of Edouard Manet and the 1970s black-is-beautiful movement, Thomas expands the representation of black women within the canon of art history. The artist emphasizes the collaborative nature of her creative process, through which the unique beauty and individuality of each model is manifested. Appearing in elaborately decorated interiors, often gazing directly into the camera, Thomas’s muses exude a powerful sense of self-possession, through which she also aims to embolden her viewers. 


Thomas’ latest series of mixed media photo collages were inspired by her research into the imagery of Black female erotica featured in the calendars of Jet magazine and the pages of the 1950s French publication,  Nus Exotique.  She further explores the notion of desire, memory, sexuality, and transformation through images of familiar, yet anonymous women, positioned and posed as alluring beauties.   


Throughout her career, Thomas has combined abstraction and figuration, and pushed the conventions of painting, photography, collage, and printmaking beyond their traditional limits, often incorporating unconventional materials in her work.  In her recent series of photocollages, printed directly on metal using the dye sublimation process, individual elements of each work are cut out and layered one on top of another creating a dimensional surface.  On top of the printed imagery, Thomas has added gestural drawings highlighted by her characteristic glittering multi-colored rhinestones. The result is a dynamic three-dimensional construction that undercuts any narrative reading and draws attention to the fluidity of identity, collectiveness of culture, and malleability of history in modern society.

Born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1971, Thomas lives and works in New York City. She earned her BFA in painting at Pratt Institute in 2000 and her MFA at the Yale University School of Art in 2002. Her work has been exhibited worldwide at significant institutions including Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris; National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York;  Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; The Bass Museum of Art, Miami; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, New Orleans; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Aspen Art Museum, Colorado; Aperture Foundation, New York; Seattle Art Museum, Washington; George Eastman House, Rochester; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Santa Monica Museum of Art; and La Conservera Contemporary Art Centre, Ceuti, Spain among others. 


Thomas’s work is in numerous public collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The International Center of Photography, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Institute of Chicago; MoMA PS1, New York; Yale University Art Collection and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan. 


Thomas has been awarded multiple prizes and grants.  Most recently an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the New York Academy of Art (2018) and a United States Artists Francie Bishop Good & David Horvitz Fellow (2015); the Pratt Institute Legends Award (2022); Rema Hort Mann Foundation 25th Anniversary Honoree (2022); Artistic Impact Award, Newark Museum (2022); Glass House 15th Anniversary Artist of the Year (2022); Yale School of Art Presidential Visiting Fellow in Fine Arts (2020); Legend in Residence Award, Bronx Museum (2020); Pauli Murray College Associate Fellow at Yale University (2020); Appraisers Association of America, Award for Excellence in the Arts, (2019); Meyerhoff-Becker Biennial Commission at Baltimore Museum of Art (2019); Visionary Award, Pioneer Works (2019).  In 2021 the first comprehensive monograph on Mickalene Thomas was published by Phaidon with text by Roxane Gay and Kellie Jones.


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