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Photo: Una Kariim website

Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971 in Camden, NJ, now living in Brooklyn, NY) is known for her elaborate and colorful paintings adorned with rhinestones, enamel, and acrylic paint although she also works in photography, collage, printmaking, video art, sculpture, and installation. I selected Thomas to follow my post on Carrie Mae Weems because Thomas was specifically inspired by Weems’ exhibition at the Portland Art Museum in 1994. She was so moved by the work, she returned six times to see the exhibit and subsequently decided to completely change the course of her life from studying law to art. Thomas’ work explores “what it means to be a woman and expands common definitions of beauty” as well as the themes of race and sexuality. (

Due to Thomas’ extensive knowledge of art history, her work is clearly inspired by various sources including Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein (see the image of the installation of the living room and you’ll see Thomas’ screenprint of Michelle Obama (titled “Michelle O”) hanging on the wall) all the way to Edouard Manet’s “The Luncheon on the Grass” (as in her piece “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires”), Henri Matisse’s interiors (as in her piece “Interior: Bedroom with Flowers”), and Paul Gauguin’s “Spirit of the Dead Watching” (as in her piece “Marie: Femme Noir Nue Couchee”), to name a few. What’s exciting is that Thomas completely reinvents and pushes the classics into the new millennium with both her flashy and provocative style as well as her focus on the modern woman’s identity, beauty, and sexuality resulting in very punchy and powerful pieces for our current world.

Thomas’ mother Sandra Bush had a huge influence on her life and her art and was the subject of a large number of paintings and photographs especially earlier in her artistic career. Sandra became dubbed “Mama Bush” in the art world and gained some notoriety simply due to the regularity with which she was her daughter’s main subject. Bush passed away in 2012, but in the final year of her life, Thomas conducted a series of interviews with her mother discussing her favorite songs, her struggles with drug addiction, and her lifelong dream of becoming a model. Thomas incorporated the footage into a touching 24-minute documentary entitled "Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman," a striking look at the person who's portrait has adorned so many gallery and museum walls. (Huffington Post)

Mickalene Thomas’ striking work has been in numerous solo exhibitions worldwide, is included in significant public collections such as MoMA, the Guggenheim, Brooklyn Museum of Art, National Portrait Gallery, and many others. She has been the recipient of many notable awards and grants and most recently was named one of the United States Artists Fellows for 2015. Her star seems to be rising fast and strong. Check this woman out!

Mickalene Thomas is African American artist #10 of 25 in my project “Have You Heard Of…?”

Mickalene Thomas

“Sandra She’s a Beauty”


C Print

Mickalene Thomas “Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires”


On-Site MoMA / PS1

Site-specific installation

Mickalene Thomas

Detail of installed living room for viewing the film "Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman" (a tribute to her mother Sandra Bush). At the George Eastman House. See hanging on the wall, Thomas' screen print of Michelle Obama "Michelle O" and photograph of her mother.

Mickalene Thomas

“Interior: Bedroom with Flowers” 2011

Rhinestone, acrylic paint, and oil enamel on wood panel

108 x 84 x 2 inches

Mickalene Thomas “Qusuquzah, Une Très Belle Négresse #2,” 2011–12. and “Din, Une Très Belle Négresse #2,” 2012

Mickalene Thomas

“Marie: Femme Noir Nue Couchee”


Rhinestones, acrylic, oil and enamel on wood panel

96 x 120 inches

Mickalene Thomas

“Hair Portrait 5”


Rhinestones and acrylic on wood panel

4 panels, each: 24x20 inches / Overall: 48 x 40 inches

Mickalene Thomas x Brother Vellies Collection


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