Mickalene Thomas' Din, une très belle négresse #1, 2012. © Mickalene Thomas, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, and Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.
NEW YORK - Is there a busier artist than Mickalene Thomas? When I interviewed the 41-year-old mid-career superstar for Vogue, back in June, she was working away in her Brooklyn studio, surrounded by assistants but still able to take a break. We sat on some comfy chairs that were part of a 70s-style living room set for her Brooklyn Museum of Art solo exhibition (Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe), which opened in September.
“I think all of the materials I use in my work have to do with artifice – artifice being something that we gravitate to, as a society, to make us feel better,” she told me. She was referring to her big, lush, colorful paintings (frequently depicting African-American women, including her mom) that are studded with rhinestones, sequins, beads – you name it. Her surfaces grab viewers, but the compositions are strong enough to pull them in and keep them there.
Mickalene Thomas' Sleep: Deux Femmes Noires, 2012. © Mickalene Thomas, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, and Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.
Thomas’s work is a hit, which explains why the Brooklyn show is just one of many things she has going: Her gallery, Lehmann Maupin, is giving her a show starting November 1st, and somehow there’s an entirely separate museum show of her work at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston opening December 12, too.
Incredibly, the second time I saw her this year was recently, at the sleek new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, working on her fourth (and I hope for her sake, final) project of the fall: a large, still-in-progress mural in the South Club area. The center is home to the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, and it opened on September 28th with a series of sold-out Jay-Z concerts.
Mickalene Thomas' Interior: Green and White Couch, 2012. © Mickalene Thomas, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, and Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photo: Christopher Burke Studio.
All of Thomas’s work is collage-like, and the mural is a large-scale version of that style, with high-resolution pictures of local buildings mixed with pictures of the patterned textiles she uses in her other pieces. “I wanted the south side of Brooklyn represented here,” she said, referring to the buildings – Thomas is a Brooklyn resident, too, and her ample pride is on display.
But the mural has an unadorned surface, so another journalist on hand asked her, “So, no bedazzling on this one?” Thomas looked a little tired and also amused when she replied, “No bedazzling.” It’s a reminder that when you’re lucky enough to become known for a signature style, the public will keep on asking for it.