Over the past half decade, one of the hottest artists in New York has been Mickalene Thomas (pictured above). Her rhinestone-encrusted paintings of black women in boldly patterned interiors that evoke the 1960s and ‘70s are the subject of a five-painting exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art (100 Northern Ave., Boston, through April 7) and a larger traveling show now on view at the Brooklyn Museum (through Jan. 20). On Dec. 11 at the ICA, we spoke to her about her mom (a fashion model in her youth), everyday middle class African American women, and the intersection of black beauty and black power.
“Growing up, my mother [pictured above in Thomas's 2009 painting “Sandra: She’s a Beauty"] would walk into a room and her beauty was so powerful that she could get whatever she wanted from people—attention, conversation,” Thomas says. “People just wanted her energy. They wanted to be around her. No matter if she said something or not. I think beauty has a form of power. And then on top of a woman being beautiful that way, if she’s intelligent, then that’s a double. And that was my mother. And I always wanted to understand that. People didn’t look at me that way. I didn’t possess my mother’s beauty in that sense. She had that ideal beauty that you just wanted to know. You knew that woman when she was in the room. I’m just trying to understand the power of that beauty.”
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