MICKALENE THOMAS "CLARIVEL", 2016
Mickalene Thomas (b.1971) is an American artist exploring the intersection of popular culture and art history, through a contemporary Black female gaze. As an openly gay Black woman, sexuality and race are essential themes in Thomas' practice.
Thomas' frequently creates portraits of black women. Her subjects, or muses, emanate an air of confidence or nonchalance and are often surrounded by abstract or patterned elements from an array of sources and eras. Elements of Blaxploitation, Pop Art, Cubism, Dadaism, and even Renaissance art appear in her work.
Thomas subverts both art history and contemporary visual culture through her images of Black women. Their hair often remains natural, and their bodies are often exposed. They lounge, or pose, as women in art history have done for centuries. Only this time, it's Black women being celebrated for their culture and beauty. Furthermore, her subjects' gaze is usually directed towards the viewer, challenging the white male gaze and defying racial stereotypes of both subservience and objectification.
"Clarivel with Black Blouse and White Ribbon" exemplifies Thomas' intricate collage style and her representation of empowered, poised black women. Recalling Renaissance portraiture, this well-coiffed, seated subject is shown torso-length in a domestic interior with a landscape in the distance.
The wood paneling and flooring signify an interior space. A fern leaf pattern (perhaps from wallpaper or fabric) is contrasted with bare-leafed trees of a distant landscape. A signature element of Thomas' work is juxtaposing elements of domesticity with elements of the natural world.
How do we interpret how Clarivel's eyes have been collaged over? The applied layer of eyes confront the viewer's gaze, another signature of Thomas' portraits. It also raises the possibility that the source image of Clarivel may have had eyes closed, turned away or downward. Behind Clarivel hangs an image of Stevie Wonder's 1980 album Hotter Than July - its presence is a reminder of how important vision and representation are in Thomas' oeuvre.
This print is based on a collage of the same name that was featured in Thomas' acclaimed exhibition "Muse: Mickalene Thomas Photographs and tête-à-tête," at Aperture Foundation (NYC). This work relates to a larger group of paintings and collages focused on Clarivel, one of the artist's favorite muses.
Thomas' works can be found in numerous museum's permanent collections; including the Museum of Modern Art (NY), Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, the Guggenheim (NYC), the Smithsonian American Art Museum (NYC), and the Whitney (NYC) among many others.
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"Clarivel with Black Blouse and White Ribbon"
Epson Inkjet print with HDR Ultrachrome inks
Signed, dated and numbered in pencil by the artist on verso.
From an edition of 25
26"H 20.75"W (work)
30.75"H 25"W (framed)
Framed with museum glass
Published by: Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in consortium with the Benefit Print Project, New York.
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