Courtesy Mickalene Thomas Studio

Mickalene Thomas rolled into her studio on a brand new ivory Vespa, a real beauty. I asked whether she was worried about parking her new scooter out on the streets of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. She looked at me with great fondness and declared: “well that’s sort of New York for you!”


Mickalene’s studio is a systematized candy land of rhinestone, enamels and paint colors with names like “green carpet.” I was giddy walking around large unfinished canvases but also unsure of how to proceed with the interview.


I knew next to nothing about Mickalene’s 20s and the camera was already rolling.  In my mind I had some vague premonitions of naughty parties—as in her teaser for Solange Knowles — funky music and sexy naked ladies.
But I should have known better.


Often described as a late bloomer, Mickalene took up art well into her 20s, after an unfulfilling legal career. Many seemingly disjointed events were taking place during that decade: an estranged relationship with her mother Mama Bush, a move from New York to Portland Oregon, many transitions of sorts.


Yet there seems to have been a cadence and a rhythm to Mickalene’s life, a spiritual fabric that weaved these disparate life events together. Art became the center of her life, not only as a career, but as a sacred space in which to investigate relationships. 


Mickalene contacted Mama Bush during the latter part of her 20s and asked her to sit as her muse. I think it was  brave of Mickalene–encouraged by one of her professors–to ask  her mother to pose for her after years of not speaking. I imagine a rather uncomfortable and silent studio room–at first.


Mama Bush eventually became the centerpiece of Mickalene’s photos, paintings and films. And when you look at Mickalene’s work of her mother there is a presence, a moment in time that transcends the past and its voices, into the now.


Watch Mickalene discuss her 20s here…


And get Mickalene’s in-the-studio Spotify playlist here…


Laura is the founder of She decided to create an online community to share those universal 20to30 moments that never made it onto CVs, bios or wikipedia entries.

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