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Mickalene Thomas

American, born 1971

© 2014 Mickalene Thomas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Interior: Monet's Blue Foyer, 2012

Rhinestones, acrylic, oil, and enamel on canvas on wood panel
108 x 240 inches (274.3 x 609.6 cm)
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2013

Mickalene Thomas is best known for her elaborate painterly practice involving rhinestones and a colorful palette that explores concepts of beauty and questions what it means to be a woman. With compositions featuring depictions of strong African-American women, reminiscent of 1970s style Blaxploitation, her body of work radiates sexuality and explores notions of black female celebrity and identity. Inspired by popular culture, Pop art, 1970s color palettes, and kitsch from her childhood, Thomas’s practice has grown out of her interest in and intense study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life painting.

Since 2010, when Thomas was commissioned to create a large-scale mural for MoMA PS1 and a site-specific painting for MoMA’s restaurant, the landscape has played an increasingly prominent role in her work. Interior: Monet's Blue Foyer, 2012, marks a shift in Thomas’s subject matter; it is part of a series of works in which she moves away from the physical body and, she has said, “experiments with the construction of the intimacy of interior spaces.” Lush in décor, multiple interior perspectives serve as what Thomas refers to as “metaphors for the status of the female body as it has been interpreted and/or used throughout the annals of art history.” Executed during a residency in The Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program in Giverny, France, in 2011, this body of work is also inspired by various specific art historical sources ranging from nineteenth-century painting to the work of artists Edouard Manet (French, 1832–1883), Fernand Léger (French, 1881–1955), Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954), and Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988), all of whom used abstraction, to one degree or another, in their representations of the world. To create the work, she sourced images from the 1970s publication The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement, which she then coupled and collaged with photographs she took of the actual space. The result is a kaleidoscopic, bold interpretation, whose crisp edges; interlocking shapes; and eloquent, controlled color palette transform Monet’s home in startlingly imaginative ways.