Shaquille Alberts, ICA Teen Arts Council
Interview with Mickalene Thomas
Today I had the exciting opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Mickalene Thomas, an artist originally from Camden, New Jersey, currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Mickalene Thomas is best known for her paintings of African-American women (to promote women empowerment) that incorporate non-traditional art material such as rhinestones. These materials add an element of dynamism to her work. Her art has been featured in exhibitions at art museums including The Santa Monica Contemporary Arts Forum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, P.S.1: MoMA in Long Island and (as of today) the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston will be added to her impressive resume (make sure you come to the ICA and check it out). In the interview, Mickalene discusses the role of education in her life, why she uses black women as the center for her artistic expression, and her love of cooking.
SA: How did art impact your life growing up? What inspired you to pursue art?
MT: When I was younger I went to an after-school art program at the Newark New Jersey Museum, which had a formidable effect on me as a kid. However, I did not decide to pursue art until later in life; at first I didn’t really think you could make a career as an artist. However, I never stopped drawing and some of my artist friends had seen my work and were amazed by it, and told me to consider getting into the art field. Before that I was studying pre-law and worked at a law firm, but I eventually pursued art in a professional manner at the age of twenty-five.
SA: How did your education affect your art career?
MT: First and foremost, I think that education is important regardless of what career direction you decide to take. However, what I think education does for artists is that it gives us the foundation to understand historical process and the relevance of art. Also, it allows you to shape your identity as an artist. I know that there are many artists who chose a different route from school and are still successful in their own regard, but I think that the great thing about education is it allows you to be a part of a greater discourse and community.
SA: How would you describe your style of art and what are some of the messages in your work?
MT: I think my style of art varies. I think of myself as an interdisciplinary artist. My art is very innovative, it speaks to many art genres and processes, it’s raw, and it’s uncanny. In terms of what I’m making, my art is reclaiming a particular space in art history and identity. I’m interested in the notion of beauty and what that means with the black female body. What it’s saying overall is that I’m here, I’m bold, and I’m not going away.
SA: How do you think a younger audience would connect to or interpret your art?
MT: I would hope that a younger audience would be inspired and see a little bit of their own identity in my work, similar to how I felt when I witnessed the artwork of Carrie Mae Weems for the first time and thought that these images can be put in the world to inspire people. My work is not a Rothko—you’re not going to sit in front of it and feel this aura of symphony from the colors or anything. However, I generally hope that is the experience people have on a visceral level.
SA: Besides Art what other hobbies do you engage in?
MT: I love cooking! I make some really great dishes and I enjoy watching movies. I’m actually planning on buying all of Hitchcock’s films on iTunes. One of my favorite movies that I have seen recently is the crime thriller called The Paperboy directed by Lee Daniels. I really like the uncanniness and mystery of it.