#53 The “Daft Punk of Contemporary Painting”—Artist Mickalene ThomasPublished 28 February 2019
In the words of the Los Angeles Times, the artist Mickalene Thomas “is to contemporary painting what Daft Punk is to music: acclaimed as one of the more original remix artists working today.” Her genre-busting work takes many forms, and grapples with bodies and their desires, with power, equity and identity. In today’s episode, she talks about community and collaboration—both essential to her practice—in a conversation with her partner and muse, the art consultant Racquel Chevremont, the cultural critic Antwaun Sargent and Charlotte Burns, the host of In Other Words.
Thomas and Chevremont recently launched “Deux Femme Noires”, an organization focused on mentoring emerging artists of color. “The more of us that come up, the better,” Chevremont says “We want the room to be filled with us.”
Thomas was studying to be a lawyer when a chance encounter with the photographs of Carrie Mae Weems inspired her to change direction and become an artist herself. “Whatever that power is, or mystery one may feel when they’re excited by or inspired by particular art—I knew that’s what I wanted to do with images,” Thomas says. “And I knew I wanted to create that space for others.”
Tune in for more from the artist, the muse and the writer in today’s episode.
Click here for the full transcript
Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you wanted to know about the art world but didn’t know who to ask.
I’m your host, Charlotte Burns, and today I’m joined by the artist Mickalene Thomas, who in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “is to painting what Daft Punk is to music, acclaimed as one of the more original remix artists working today.”
Her genre-busting work takes many forms: painting, photography, silkscreens, site-specific installations using pattern, rhinestone and video to grapple with bodies and their desires with power, equity and identity.
She often draws on art history in order to subvert it, for instance positioning black women as the main characters in reimagined versions of celebrated paintings, such as Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe or Titian’s Venus of Urbino.
A major retrospective of her work, entitled Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, is currently on show at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto until the 24 March.
Mickalene Thomas:“Whatever that moment is—whatever that power is, or that mysticism, the mystery that one may feel when they’re inspired by or excited by particular art—I knew that’s what I wanted to do with images. I knew I wanted to create that space for others.”
Mickalene Thomas is a 2015 United States Artists Francie Bishop Good & David Horvitz Fellow, and 2018 New York Academy of Art Honorary Doctorate recipient. She is a distinguished visual artist, filmmaker, and curator who has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally and is known for paintings that combine art-historical, political, and pop-cultural references. Her work introduces complex notions of femininity and challenges common definitions of beauty and aesthetic representations of women.
Thomas holds an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from Pratt Institute. She’s held solo museum exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Aspen Museum, and L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Monaco. Recent solo exhibitions include “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me” at Wexner Center for the Arts, “Mickalene Thomas: Do I Look Like a Lady?” at MOCA Grand, Los Angeles; and “Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs” at Aperture Foundation, New York, which traveled to several venues across the United States and featured her notably curated exhibition, tête-à-tête. Thomas’s work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Hammer Museum, and Smithsonian American Art Museum, among many others.
collector and art advisor
Racquel Chevremont was born and raised in New York City. In 1991, two years into her studies at New York University, she was discovered by photographer and Elite model management scout Steve Landis at the HMV on 86th Street. That chance meeting led to a 20 year career as a model for Elite model management and Wilhelmina models. In 1998 she started Crux Candles, Inc a high end candle company carried in stores around the world as well as QVC. She ran Crux Candles until 2003. In 2003 she joined the Acquisitions Committees at both the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Guggenheim. She also began building a contemporary art collection and running the State Street Salon out of her townhouse in Brooklyn. State Street Salon was a platform for artists, curators and collectors designed to help cultivate a new generation of collectors. She currently runs an art consulting business working closely with artists, corporations and collectors and is co-founder of Deux Femmes Noires, a platform to bring visibility to artists of color and queer artists.
critic and writer
Antwaun Sargent is writer and critic living and working in New York City. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Nation, W, Vice and various other publications. He has recently contributed essays and interviews to museum and gallery publications for artists Ed Clark, Mickalene Thomas, Arthur Jafa and Yinka Shonibare. Sargent has lectured and been in conversation with artists at Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, Art Gallery of Toronto and various other institutions. His first book “The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion” is out this fall from Aperture.
Where to look
In Pictures—"Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires" at the Art Gallery of Ontario
The live record
Behind the Scenes with Mickalene Thomas, Antwaun Sargent, Racquel Chevremont and Charlotte Burns
For more on Mickalene and Racquel:
- Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
- “It Was Always a Political Statement”, published by Financial Times
- “A First Look at Mickalene Thomas’ Newest Fashion Photographs” featuring Racquel Chevremont, published by GARAGE magazine
- Deux Femmes Noires
For more by Antwaun Sargent:
- “Mickalene Thomas on Muses, Models and Mentors“, by Antwaun Sargent for Interview magazine
- Soul of a Nation: “We Are More Than This“, by Antwaun Sargent for Tate