Artist Feature: Mickalene Thomas

Editor Shenyah Webb, Art, June 6th, 2016

"...grace, confidence, and fabulousness – a distinct portrayal of black women."

Mickalene Thomas artist feature NAILED Magazine


Mickalene Thomas strips away the preconceived notions of black female stereotypes and impeccably exposes the true powerhouses within her muses. Through her portraits, she redefines societal definitions of femininity, race, and beauty. Rather than activate the commotion of explaining the truth, she straight up represents it. Her portraits embody the total feminine power of grace, confidence, and fabulousness – a distinct portrayal of black women.

Thomas works in a myriad of mediums to create both 2D and 3D artworks; paint, enamel, collage, photography, video, and lots of rhinestones! Although her pieces all have a similar voice, her portraits speak differently with each medium. “Painting will only allow you to depict the image so much and so far, and photography has a different presentation. Painting becomes more of this fantasy. It is really what I want it to be. It has nothing to do with the real image itself. Photography manipulates the viewer into thinking that this is what it is. It resides in that reality of what is ‘true.’ There are elements that I cannot get in a painting that I know that I could achieve in a photograph…What is interesting and fun for me about collages is that you can bring both of those elements – the truth, the manipulation, and the fantasy and make into that essence that you want to present, because you can use images that seem true like a photograph.”

Her portraits, all of different muses, really break down to self-reflection for Thomas — how she sees herself or wants to see herself. “Just like my first muse, my mother, all of my muses possess a profound sense of inner confidence and individuality. They are all in tune with their own audacity and beauty in such unique ways. They are unafraid to exude boldness and vulnerability at the same time, and most importantly, they are real.

“I want the same kind of strength and tenacity to shine through all of my viewers. Just as my muses insist on their visibility and identity, I want my viewers to feel present with fierceness and boldness. Through the act of seeing, I want them to feel validated just as much. I want them to claim their rightful space in the world.”

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Mickalene Thomas artist feature NAILED MagazineMickalene Thomas was born in 1971 in Camden, New Jersey. Thomas earned her MFA at the Yale University School of Art in 2002. From 2000 to 2003, she participated in a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York and in 2011, a residency at the Versailles Foundation Munn Artists Program in Giverny, France. Thomas has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.


Shenyah Webb

Shenyah Webb is a Portland-based visual artist and musician. She has been with NAILED Magazine since its inception in 2012 and has served as the Arts Editor and a Contributing Editor since its launch in 2013. A Detroit native, she attended The College for Creative Studies, where she focused on Fine Art and Industrial Design. She is currently enrolled in a Somatic Expressive Arts Education and Therapy training program, studying under Lanie Bergin. You can learn more about Shenyah here. (