MICKALENE THOMAS Origin of the Universe
Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas (born Camden, New Jersey, 1971) is renowned for her eye-catching paintings of African American women rendered in acrylic and enamel and embellished with rhinestones. A cultural omnivore with an extensive knowledge of Western art history, Thomas engages in a dialogue with art-historical traditions throughout her work. The title Thomas chose for this exhibition, Origin of the Universe, is a riff on the 1866 painting L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), by the French artist Gustave Courbet.
While absorbing lessons of portraiture, landscape, still life, and the female nude taught by the work of Courbet and other iconic male artists including Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse, Thomas also takes inspiration from the photographic series of Carrie Mae Weems. A successful African American female artist, Weems provided Thomas with an important role model. Thomas’s diverse source material also includes architecture, interior design, film, music, and the emblems of the Black Power movement. As a black woman artist who depicts black women in genres traditionally dedicated to white subjects, Thomas challenges the conventional parameters of Western art history.
Focusing on her production of the past two years, Origin of the Universe, Thomas’s first solo museum exhibition, presents her ongoing exploration of black female beauty, power, and sexual identity in portraits and figurative work, as well as her more recent investigations of domestic interiors and landscapes. Enhanced by works created specifically for the Brooklyn presentation, the exhibition includes not only paintings but photographs, film, installations, and collages, revealing how the artist’s ideas unfold in different media.