Mickalene Thomas has a unique style that is nothing short of bodacious. Her colorful, glitter infused portraiture work is commands your attention and invites you delve into a deeper understanding of the person that is being portrayed. Her use of interiors and recent pivot to abstract portraits were a mystery to me because I couldn’t connect the dots to the disparate mediums she employs in her practice.
Today I watched Thomas’ ode to her mother/muse in HBO’s 2014 documentary, “Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman”. It was such an amazingly beautiful tribute that exemplifies the complexities of our relationships are and how those relationships shape who we are today.
I also saw an old ArtNet interview with the artist and it perfectly connected the dots between the work that defined her career, what inspired it and how it influences other areas of her creative practice.
I could pull from my own imagination, but I think reality is so much more raw and there’s so much more information and discomfort and excitement and happiness and beauty and all of these layers that you can pull from that I find exciting.”
In researching Thomas I learned that her interior work, which is strongly rooted in 70’s wood paneling, colorful, floral tapestries, shag rugs and dayglo, played a critical role in her photography and paintings. The artistic forms are so strongly linked together that Thomas felt the need to recreate the conditions under which her portraits were created. This was a critical element in understanding the portrait as a whole. In this sense the surroundings were as much of a creative muse as the subjects themselves.
The documentary is under 30 minutes, if you don’t have access to HBO Docs, find a way to subscribe!