THIS WEEK on the GWA Podcast, I interview one of the most renowned artists working in the world right now, Mickalene Thomas.

Working across painting, photography, installation, film, collage and more, Thomas, for the past two decades has been instrumental in forging an identity for figuration in the 21st century. Positioning her subjects – bold, beautiful women – in often large-scale work that commands the same power as that of Old Master Painting, Thomas lionises her subjects, whether they be friends, family members or lovers, by imbuing them with glittering rhinestone crystals and rich, colourful patterning, in atmospheres that are full of freedom, full of liberation.

Drawing from pop culture and history – think Grace Jones to the 19th century French painters – and striving to encapsulate the beauty and glamour she witnessed in Jet magazine when growing up, Thomas also re-stages, reclaims, art-historical compositions by reworking paintings from the lens of a Black queer woman.

In 2013, she said: ‘Portraits are very powerful. They have a great representation and dominance in the world... of trying to capture the essence of someone’ and just to prove how powerful this was on her own career, it was after seeing legendary photographer Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table Series, 1990 that Thomas was inspired to pursue art. Switching from law and enrolling in art school at the Pratt Institute, Thomas then went on to earn her MFA from Yale, and has since worked indefatigably to elevate the presence of Black women in art.

Thomas has exhibited at the world’s most prestigious institutions, from the Brooklyn Museum to MOCA Los Angeles, Spellman College to the ICA in Boston, but she has also been a force at uplifting the careers of others – such as, in recent shows, curating exhibitions alongside her own featuring younger names, making for a more exciting and inclusive art history, that others have followed her in doing.

Follow us:

Katy Hessel: @thegreatwomenartists / @katy.hessel

Sound editing by Mikaela Carmichael

Artwork by @thisisaliceskinner

Music by Ben Wetherfield


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