Mickalene Thomas draws on art history and popular culture to create a contemporary vision of black female sexuality, beauty, and power. Combining the genres of portraiture and domestic interior, her stunning large-scale paintings depict African-American women posed within boldly patterned interiors, the picture surfaces often adorned with Swarovski rhinestones. Thomas starts her process by collaging staged photographs, sometimes taken from her family’s photo album, with patterns and styles frequently drawn from 1970s advertising. She then enlarges and transforms these source images into monumental paintings to explore such central artistic problems as the construction of space and the role of the female body.
The interior scene depicted in Monet’s Salon is made up of a dizzying array of fractured planes. In the foreground, Thomas places a white lounge chair with a floral motif made from green and pink rhinestones—a striking amalgamation of a nineteenth-century impressionist salon staple with a contemporary material twist. The rest of the scene is composed of areas depicting foliage seen through windowpanes, a window ledge with books and a houseplant, a salon-style hanging of monochromatic paintings, and sections of wallpaper and Oriental rugs. About her interest in fracture Thomas has said, “The process of collage allowed me to navigate the structure of an image: segmenting, deconstructing, pasting, and recontextualizing my ideas. I wanted to shift ways of seeing the image.” A set of brown stanchions in the foreground separate the viewer from the scene, as if it were a museum gallery or a room in a historic house.
This significant painting by one of the most prominent young voices in contemporary art today greatly enhances the ICA/Boston’s small collection of painting and marks the museum’s solo exhibition of Thomas’s work in 2012. It joins significant paintings in the collection by Alice Neel, Dana Schutz, Amy Sillman, and Lisa Yuskavage, diversifying these holdings while reflecting a continued and prevalent interest in representation and abstraction.