Spaces and Identities: The Art Portfolio of Mickalene Thomas

A portrait of a woman reclining on a sofaRacquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit

Mickalene Thomas is an American artist who works in a variety of media including painting, photography, and installation. The artist’s works are often dense with patterned detail, overlapping textures, and colour, all of which come together into striking compositions, painting portraits of defined spaces and identities.

An installation of a home interior in a gallery spaceI Was Born to Do Great Things (installation view at Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago)

Thomas is well recognized for her large, detailed portraits of African American subjects that are often studded with rhinestones and painted with an intense colour palette. These works address traditional portrait painting while at the same time innovating and presenting an entirely new format for portraiture.


I find the artist’s installations particularly fascinating. In these works, Thomas often creates an entire space – a living room or den – within a larger gallery space, or, in at least one case, a shop window. These “rooms” take décor queues from houses of the 1960s and 70s and are packed with an eclectic range of furniture sporting a dizzying array of upholstery patterns. There’s something very deeply nostalgic about these spaces and the numerous famliiar textures and patterns therein.

An installation of an old home interiorBetter Days (installation view at The Galerie, Volkshaus, Basel, Switzerland)

Written by: Dallas Jeffs
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