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1/1 Preview: Lesley A. Martin on Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas, Liz and Chair with Zebra, 2013.

Mickalene Thomas is best known for her large-scale, multi-textured and rhinestone-bedecked paintings of domestic interiors and portraits. However, the Brooklyn-based artist has also identified the photographic image as an important touchstone for her work, both as source material and as a medium for creating work. In an interview in the catalog for her solo show at the Brooklyn Museum last year, Thomas described photography as something that “defines [her] practice. It provides a connection between all the works.” As a student at Yale, she took classes with photographer David Hilliard, who encouraged her to photograph herself and her mother—an experience that Thomas sees as an important pivot point for her as an artist.

Liz and Chair with Zebra (2013), available as part of Aperture’s 1/1 Auction, draws together several of Thomas’s foremost concerns and reference points. The work seems to draw equally from 1970s-glam, black-is-beautiful images of women such as Beverly Johnson, one of the first black supermodels, and actress Vonetta McGee (Shaft’s love interest in Shaft in Africa), in combination with Édouard Manet’s odalisque figures and the mise-en-scène studio portraiture of James Van Der Zee and Malick Sidibé. The interior space (including the titular “chair” and “zebra”) takes on as much of a performative role as does Liz, who is draped languorously across the image and adorned primarily with a large, Egyptian-style necklace. This corner of Thomas’s studio is an ongoing, palimpsest creation, a reappearing character in many of her photographs and echoed in her paintings; it is a site of physical collage, of the appropriation of textures, objects, and patterns. The space exudes a thick, cozy physicality from its layers of fur, rugs, wood paneling, and multi-patterned linoleum tiles—all of which are richly laden with sense-memory triggers of 1970s American rumpus-room semiotics.

Lesley A. Martin, Publisher, Books

Mickalene Thomas’s photograph Liz and Chair with Zebra will be available as part of the Aperture 1/1 Benefit & Auction on Monday, October 28. Pre-bidding has started online at Artspace. Find out more about the 1/1 Benefit & Auction and buy tickets here.