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  • "I’ve always been interested in masking, layering, dressing up and beautifying yourself and what that meant to black women. I’ve always wanted to make things that I haven’t seen before."
    —Mickalene Thomas

    Depicting a fashionable, self-assured woman with a gaze redolent of Édouard Manet’s Olympia, Mickalene Thomas’ Portrait of Jessica exemplifies the artist’s vision of female beauty, sexuality, and power. At once subject and object, real and fictive, the woman is bedazzled from head to toe, exuding a brilliant shine and unremitting glamor from her adorned accessories to her own makeup and shadow. Executed in 2011, the present work features Thomas’ signature use of rhinestones as a symbol of both femininity and artifice, inviting viewers to examine her beauty while reflecting on beauty’s constructed nature.

     

    Barkley Hendricks, Sweet Thang (Lynn Jenkins), 1975-1976. Museum of Modern Art, New York

    "I am always looking back at history and thinking about the images that have come before me and what they meant and how I can use them in my own way."
    —Mickalene Thomas

    Drawing inspiration from canonical artists including Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Manet to pop culture icons of the 1970s, Thomas is best known for her vast body of portraits that deconstructs metanarratives of beauty, gender, and race. Reconstructing her figures in rhinestone-emblazoned paintings, Thomas models her Black female figures in classical poses against contemporary, collaged settings recalling the work of Romare Bearden to create at once multi-textured works and symbolically multi-layered works. The artist frequently depicts her close friends, lovers, and family members, who are as much real figures as they are muses in her art. “All of my muses,” Thomas expressed, “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

     

    [left] Gustav Klimt, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1901. Oesterreichische Galerie im Belvedere, Vienna, Image: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY [right] Pam Grier on the cover of Jet Magazine, August 9, 1973

    Endowing her figures with an undeniable femininity by covering them in rhinestones, Thomas infuses her paintings with material and symbolic layers of meaning that address the notions of beauty and perception. Reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics and Gustav Klimt’s decorative aesthetic, the glimmering collage elements in the present work create a striking contrast to the sensually painted background. The shimmering diamantes not only embellish the furniture and the figure, but in some degrees are the figure—they are the contours of her skin and make up her voluptuous hair, overpainted with flaunting white acrylic pigment. By excessively layering her figures in this manner, “I’m also playing with artifice, what’s real and not real, and how we perceive things,” the artist explained.ii While Thomas focuses on the Black experience, her ultimate message conveys this notion on the universal level. “These elements are not necessarily about the black experience; it’s about the idea of covering up, of dress up and make up—of amplifying how we see ourselves. It’s beyond a black esthetic.”iii

     

     

    i Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Katie Booth, “In Mickalene Thomas’s Awe-Inspiring Portraits, a Meaningful Reflection of Black Women in Art,” The New York Times, January 29, 2016.
    ii Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Carol Kino, “A Confidence Highlighted in Rhinestones,” The New York Times, April 7, 2009, online
    iii Mickalene Thomas, quoted in “From the Archives: Mickalene Thomas on Why Her Work Goes ‘Beyond the Black Aesthetic,” in 2011,” ARTnews, September 14, 2018, online
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    • Provenance

      Lehmann Maupin, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Mickalene Thomas

      American • 1971

      Influenced by Lacanian psychology as much as by the glam aesthetics of 1970s Blaxploitation films, artist Mickalene Thomas subverts conventional canonical formats to unravel notions of race, gender, and sexuality. Thomas’s complex works incorporate a wide range of media including rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel to create richly layered collage-like compositions that explore the inner natures of her sitters against the contradictions and misconceptions of identity. She produces portraits of African American women using vocabularies of the art historical canon and contemporary celebrity photography to render her subjects as powerful agents of their identities. Often depicting her sitters, whom the artist frequently refers to as “muses,” in the poses of the odalisques of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Édouard Manet, Thomas subverts traditional forms of representation and presents a complex and empathetic vision of the myriad experiences of Black woman in contemporary America. Her sitters return the viewer’s gaze, supercharging their potent presences.

      Thomas came to making art under precipitous circumstances; inspired by a retrospective of the work of Carrie Mae Weems while she was studying law in Portland, Oregon, Thomas has since devoted herself to exploring identity in visual terms. Her work incorporates a huge variety of influences, from Édouard Manet and Henri Matisse to Weems and Kehinde Wiley, and has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Brooklyn Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

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Portrait of Jessica

signed, titled and dated "Portrait of Jessica, 2011 M. Thomas" on the reverse
rhinestones, acrylic and enamel on panel
60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $1,542,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021