MICKALENE THOMAS’ EMPIRE
By Elizabeth Patterson
Mickalene Thomas is a New York based artist who uses materials like rhinestones and enamel in her work, which ranges from paintings using this mixed media to photographs. The result is an explosion of contrasts in color and texture, giving her work a palpable feeling. Her glittering art feels personal, as though you can envision yourself in them.
What sets Thomas apart is her subject matter. She chooses to focus on black women in her art. Subjects can be either famous or anonymous, but either way they are highlighted rather than hidden. A portrait called “Hair” from 2013 features different black hairstyles, from bantu knots to classic cornrows, whereas another called “Naomi Looking Forward” features none other than Ms. Campbell herself, reclining on a multi-patterned sofa. Though black women make up the bulk of her art, she also has work of empty interiors, featuring a mix of patterns in a patchwork style that is almost dizzying.
But it’s one of her photographic pieces, titled “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe: Trois noir femme” that is gaining Thomas many more fans. The piece features three black women in a picnic setting, reminiscent of Manet’s famous painting. So why the frenzy around this piece? It’s set to be featured in the upcoming second season of the critically acclaimed Fox show Empire. The piece can be seen in the background of a scene featuring Jussie Smollet and Trai Byers and judging by the setting, there’s a possibility it could be a permanent fixture in an office on the show.
Thomas’ art keeps you guessing, and is a welcome sight in a sea of minimalistic, clean art that dominates the field today. Her spotlight on black women is much needed, and hopefully others will follow in her footsteps in representing them in art. With a feature on a show as prominent and followed as Empire, Thomas’ future has never looked brighter.