Mickalene Thomas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips
  • "The gaze in my work is unapologetically a Black woman’s gaze loving other Black women".
    —Mickalene Thomas
    Engaging directly with art historical histories of representation and the male gaze, Mickalene Thomas’ As if You Read My Mind presents a radical vision of Black femininity, one that redefines desire and feminine sexuality on its own terms. Richly layered and combining multiple textures in its construction, Thomas’s sensitivity to materials is well demonstrated here, delicate hand painted and collaged areas bordered by the artist’s signature rhinestone details. Visually dazzling, these decorative elements also draw attention to certain connections between beauty and artifice, gender and performance that is foundational to Thomas’ practice.

    Combining art historical references with nods to 1970s pop culture, Thomas’ portraits engage directly with ‘the idea of covering up, of dress up and make up—of amplifying how we see ourselves’, the gold tones and richly embellished surface here recalling Gustav Klimt’s stunningly sensual Judith and the Head of Holofernes.i Dramatically cropping the severed head of Holofernes, Klimt shifts the narrative focus from the defeated patriarch to the rich inner life of the woman at the centre of the story in a way that prefigures Thomas’ own commitment to representing the complexity of her female subjects and interrogating the dynamic between artist and muse.


    Left: Gustav Klimt, Judith and the Head of Holofernes, 1901, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna. Image: Bridgeman Images
     Right: Detail of the present work

    She Works Hard For The Money 


    Presented in three-quarter profile against a section of wood-panelled interior and boldly patterned upholstery reminiscent of 1970s interiors, the woman at the centre of the work looks out at us with coy confidence and self-possession. Borrowing its title from Donna Summer’s 1983 hit, the present work belongs to Thomas’ She Works Hard For The Money Series, foregrounding questions of women’s work and the visibility of their labour in society. In addition to the homage made by the series title to Summer’s influence and work, Thomas has previously immortalised the singer in one of her signature rhinestone portraits.


    Building on her interest in film and magazine culture that creates space for Black experience, Thomas began to experiment with staged photographs, dressing her mother as Blaxploitation cinematic icon Pam Grier. The first Black woman to appear in a mainstream action movie as a strong leading character in the 1973 film Coffy, Grier represents a powerful touchstone for Thomas, an icon from her childhood and a model Black female empowerment and self-representation. The prominent gold hoops, 1970s interior, and indomitable presence of the sitter all seem to reference Grier’s influence here, as in evident in a sister work Do What Makes You Satisifed (from the She Works Hard For The Money Series), now held in the permanent collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama. As in this earlier portrait, As If You Read My Mind captures the radiant inner beauty and power of her subject, a way of visualising female subjecthood that has marked Thomas out as one of the most interesting and innovative figurative artists working today.

    "By portraying real women with their own unique history, beauty, and background, I’m working to diversify the representations of Black women in art. We are not validated until we see ourselves: not only are we present, we demand that we be seen , be heard, and be acknowledged ."
    —Mickalene Thomas
    As Thomas explains, ‘All my muses possess a profound sense of inner confidence and individuality. They are all in tune with their own audacity and beauty in some ways. They are unafraid to exude boldness and vulnerability at the same time, and most importantly, they are real.’ii Maya clearly displays these qualities, meeting the viewers eye directly, and enjoying her sensuality on her own terms. In this respect the portrait presents a radical critique of the genre’s historical objectification of women – particularly the overt sexualisation of women of colour. Dovetailing with 19th century Orientalism, where darker skinned women were featured in European painting they were frequently cast in the role of the exoticized other, often bare-breasted or lightly draped in the silks of the harem servant. Referencing the Odalisque trope adopted by European masters Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Gustave Courbet, and Henri Matisse, Thomas’ stunning portraits retroactively disrupt the entrenched hierarchies of gender, class, and race reinforced by these paintings, reimaging the muse as a force in her own right.

    The work’s title takes on added significance in light of this, As if You Read My Mind evoking both the playful mutuality of ‘you read my mind’ and a more pointed assertion of female autonomy. Belonging to a body of work explicitly focused on the muse and its complexities, As If You Can Read My Mind was included in Thomas’ 2018 exhibition Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me hosted by the Wexner Centre for Arts. The work was hung as part of an installation, a three-dimensional realisation of the 1970s interiors that so often feature as the backdrop for her images of female desire and empowerment. Literally creating space for the women she depicts, in these room-scale installations Thomas establishes a dialogue between bodies and the spaces they occupy, the assortment of richly pattered fabrics and textures an apt visualisation of the kind of feminist self-fashioning explored in her paintings. As Antwaun Sargent describes, ‘the most public of private spaces and one often styled by Black women, the living room operates within Thomas’ work as a metaphor for freedom, subjectivity, and the expression (silenced elsewhere) of Black sisterhood.’iii


    Installation view of Mickalene Thomas : I Can’t See You Without Me at the Wexner Centre, 2018. Artwork: © Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York and DACS, London 2022

    Collector’s Digest:

    • Mickalene Thomas has been the subject of considerable attention in recent years. The subject of a recent monograph, the artist has also had major exhibitions with The Brooklyn Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston, and a four-location show staged across Lévy Gorvy’s galleries in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong, amongst others. 


    • Included in Thomas’ 2018 exhibition Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me at the Wexner Centre for the Arts, Columbus, As if You Can Read My Mind belongs to a body of work focused explicitly on the complexities of the artist / muse relationship. 


    • The present work belongs to the artist's celebrated She Works Hard For The Money series, one painting from which now resides in the permanent collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art. 


    Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me

    i 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.
    ii Mickalene Thomas, quoted in Katie Booth, ‘In Mickalene Thomas’ Awe-Inspiring Portraits, a Meaningful Reflection of Black Women in Art’, The New York Times, 29 January 2016, online 
    iii Antwaun Sargent, ‘Sisterhood is a Behaviour: Mickalene Thomas’ Restaging of Womanhood’, in Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires (exh. cat.), Toronto, 2018, p. 66.

    • Provenance

      Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, USA
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Boca Raton Museum of Art (on loan)
      Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me, 14 September - 30 December 2018, pp. 75, 121 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Roxane Gay and Kellie Jones, Mickalene Thomas, London, 2021, p. 265 (illustrated, p. 19; Wexner Arts Center, Columbus, 2018 installation view illustrated, p. 117)

    • Artist Biography

      Mickalene Thomas

      American • 1971

      Glamour and feminism need not be foes, as evinced by the wonderful work of Mickalene Thomas. The artist examines these qualities through the lens of the African-American female experience. Whether with her rhinestone-inflected, '70s-glam-inspired portraits of black beauty and power or her photographic installations of her mother's living room, Thomas personalizes while aestheticizing a visual conversation about race. By tackling classical art historical themes, she writes African-American aesthetics into traditional conventions.

      Blockbuster retrospectives at the Brooklyn Museum and ICA Boston thrust Thomas into contemporary art's mainstage. Her platform extends her creative pursuits into fashion, interiors and DJ'ing. Thomas' market has also grown at a steady pace with auction prices increasing each year.

      View More Works


As If You Read My Mind

signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘“AS IF YOU READ MY MIND”, 2005 from (She works hard for the money….Pin-Up Series) 48 x 36 in Mickalene Thomas’ on the reverse
rhinestones, acrylic, enamel, resin and graphite on wood
121.9 x 91.4 cm (47 7/8 x 35 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2005.

Full Cataloguing

£200,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £504,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022