Mickalene Thomas
American artist



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Mickalene Thomas
American artist
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Mickalene Thomas is bringing sexy back, one rhinestone at a time.

It’s no exaggeration to call her a renaissance woman: she makes everything from acrylic paintings incorporating enamel and rhinestones to collages, videos, prints, photography, and even installations. Most of her work presents powerful, sexy, fabulous black women replacing women in iconic Western paintings. She’s taking down “The Man” by reinventing paintings like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Grande Odalisque with a sexy, 1970s Foxy Brown aesthetic. Mickalene even used herself as a model to recreate Courbet’s Origin of the World, bravely exposing know...with a touch of vajazzling. Empowering women and expressing black femininity all while sticking it to those famous dead white male painters? Get it, girl!

Though Thomas was exposed to art through after-school programs at the Newark Museum when she was younger, she was dead set on becoming a lawyer up until her early twenties. She even had a job working at a law firm for a while. Luckily, her friends didn’t think the world needed another lawyer, and after lots of encouragement, an art therapy workshop, and a small coffee shop exhibition, she was convinced to give art a try and applied to Pratt. Little did she know that one day she’d create an album cover for Solange Knowles, have her artwork hung in the National Portrait Gallery, and sell her pieces for $250,000 each. She even had her portrait painted by Kehinde Wiley

While growing up in New Jersey, she was raised by her mother, Sandra "Mama Bush" Bush, an aspiring model who brought her children up as Buddhists. Living in an environment where most of the men were either in jail or on drugs, Mickalene got her first glimpse of the strong, glamorous black woman from her mother and other female relatives, who had to keep everything together. #blackgirlmagic Despite having a strained relationship because of her mother’s drug use, Mama Bush and her captivating charisma were major inspiration for Mickalene’s art. She made several paintings, photos, and films with her as the subject, including a partially nude portrait. I suppose photographing your mother half-naked while she sensually reclines on a sofa is certainly one way of bonding with her. Not the method I would choose, but to each her own.



  1. 20to30. “Mickalene Thomas, Artist - The Perks of Being a Late Bloomer”. Filmed [Aug 2014]. YouTube video, 04:37. Posted [Aug 2014].
  2. “About,” Mickalene Thomas. 2018. Accessed July 2018.
  3. Ates, Tiffany Y. “How Mickalene Thomas Is Ushering in a New Wave of Contemporary Art,” Smithsonian, Jan 2018, Accessed July 2018.
  4. BLOUIN ARTINFO. “Mickalene Thomas Studio Visit”. Filmed [Sept 2012]. YouTube video, 05:35. Posted [Sept 2012].
  5. Felsenthal, Julia. “Mickalene Thomas on Her Photographic Muses,” Vogue, Jan 28 2016, Accessed July 2018.
  6. “Kehinde Wiley, Trickster,” Sean Kelly, Accessed July 2018.
  7. Pollack, Barbara. “Rhinestone Odalisques,” Lehmann Maupin, Jan 2011, Accessed July 2018.
ajardini's picture

Sr. Editor

A New Yorker who takes traditional paintings and makes them fabulous. Her protagonists are fierce Black women.  The swirling colors of her canvases are adorned with glitter and jewels, giving her work a groovy 70s vibe.

Her portrait of Michelle Obama was the first solo portrait of our first lady to be hung in the National Portrait Gallery.

It’s no wonder her body of work is so clever and intelligent…smarty pants got her MFA from Yale.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas (born January 28, 1971) is a contemporary African-American visual artist best known as a painter of complex works using rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel. Thomas's collage work is inspired from popular art histories and movements, including Impressionism, Cubism, Dada and the Harlem Renaissance. Her work draws from Western art history, pop art and visual culture to examine ideas around femininity, beauty, race, sexuality, and gender.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Mickalene Thomas.