It’s big and sparkly like the proverbial girl’s best friend, but that’s not the only reason I like Mickalene Thomas’s, A Little Taste Outside of Love.
It’s also a smart tongue-in-cheek riff on the familiar tradition of depicting the nude—woman of course—in the history of western art. In this work, Thomas explores the idea of self-representation. By making an African American woman the subject of the painting she recasts traditional depictions in European paintings of black women as maids and servants. (If you are familiar with art history, think about Edouard Manet’s Olympia, which shows a pale courtesan reclining on white sheets with a maid of African descent offering a bouquet of flowers from an admirer.) In A Little Taste Thomas also tweaks European taste for “oriental” themes by removing the nude female body from the sexualized space of the harem and inserting it into an interior that makes reference to taste of the 1970s—the decade in which the artist was born.
You can see the influence of the 70s and the black power movement in the luxuriantly patterned textiles and the woman’s Afro hairdo. Informing Thomas’s painting are her mother’s photographs from the 70s, Blaxploitation movies, and images of iconic black women. I like the interior setting which has a big personality. The patchwork of swatches rendered in gaudy and sometimes clashing patterns suggests a room that is filled with spacial ambiguities. All of the sparkling multicolored rhinestones applied to the surface heighten the decorative qualities of the piece, pushing the glitz factor beyond conventional good taste. Here, Thomas has forged an innovative pictorial language that draws on tradition to create something new and very contemporary. I’m proud that she’s a Brooklyn artist!!!