Muse Magazine

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

TRENDS: Mickalene Thomas

The first time I encountered Mickalene Thomas’ artwork was at the Art Basel fair in Miami last month. Wandering through a maze of works by iconic names like Pablo Picasso, established ones such as Takashi Murakami, and newer artists like Tauba Auerbach, her works grabbed me. Staring at the fleshy, sometimes angry, other moments impassive and other instances playful women felt like gazing into a fire. I wasn’t quite sure why I was so transfixed. On the surface the enamel paintings embellished with rhinestones and Swarovski crystals were simply shiny and pretty to look at with vivid red, yellow and green hues. But underneath, these women seemed to possess a level of comfort within their own skin not unlike that of vintage burlesque performers who used their extra weight as a source of sexual desire instead of embarrassment and insecurity. In an interview, Thomas, who lives in Brooklyn, said she began painting her portraits of these women in an art therapy class that she enrolled in to explore some deep family issues. The inner conflict led her to create these portraits of sexually fierce women that straddle the line between being campy and poignant, frightening and welcoming. Granted the idea of owning one’s sexuality is not a new one, but her treatment of it seems incredibly engaging and fresh.


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