The Perks of Being A Late Bloomer
Mickalene Thomas | Artist

  • Why You Should Care
  • Bio
  • Read It
  • Made By
Why Should You Care
  • African-American feministsocio-political artist and filmmaker known for her elaborate paintings adorned with rhinestones, enamel and colorful acrylics. She draws from art history and pop culture, particularly from the 70s.
  • Received BFA from Pratt Institute and MFA from Yale
  • Did not begin pursuing art professionally until her mid-20s
  • Has work held in many collections including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art, The National Portrait Gallery (for her portrait of Michelle Obama), and The Whitney Museum of American Art.

Mickalene Thomas, one of the most influential contemporary black artists, is known for her elaborate paintings adorned with rhinestones, enamel and colorful acrylics.

Thomas describes herself as a “late bloomer,” studying pre-law and working at a law firm before attending art school.

She discovered her talent while living in Portland in her 20s. Surrounded by artists, Thomas decided to begin making art of her own. She greater realized her talent on an art therapy retreat and made the decision to begin making art professionally when she was 25.

Thomas went on to study painting at Yale and earned her M.F.A. in 2002.

Her work has gone on to be displayed in many public collections, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mickalene credits strong musical influences to her artistic process and recently collaborated with Solange Knowles on an album cover and video. She was also part of Jay-Z’ “Picasso Baby” video.

Mickalene’s art introduces a complex vision of what it means to be a woman and expands on the common definition of beauty. Her portrait of Michelle Obama was the first individual portrait done of the First Lady and exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery.

Read It

In my 20s I had no direction at all! The only direction I had is that I thought I was going to be a lawyer and that did not work out.

My name is Mickalene Thomas, I’m an artist. I make paintings, photographs, video, and installation.

I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I studied pre-law and I worked at a law firm. That experience really sort of jaded (laughs) my perspective of ever wanting to work in that field.

I was all over the place in my 20s, but I was also very grounded. I always sort of had an insight that I wanted to do something, I just didn’t know what that was at that time, until I discovered art.

The nature of my work in my 20s was like discovery and all over the place. Because I didn’t have the technical skills at the time. It was untrained.

I started making art professionally at 25 years old.

I would like to think that I’m a late bloomer. I was very the type of person that took my time with making decisions. And I think that experience has allowed me to persevere in a way that if I’m going to make this decision and do this, I’m going to give 100 percent.

I went to an art therapy retreat because I was dealing with a lot of issues in relationship to my mother, and my friend was going on this retreat. It sounded really hokey dokey and a little sort of new agey and I wasn’t that interested in it, but he really wanted someone to go with. While I was there I started making all these drawings in relationship to my friends and family. They would ask me questions and ask me to explore notions of experiences that you may have had. All of these drawings just sort of came out. Had I not gone with him maybe I wouldn’t be making art today, who’s to say.

Everything I create in my own work and in my life has to do with my experiences as a young adult in my 20s.

How my relationship was with my mother in my 20s, it was a little estranged. It really forced me to be a young adult and very mature early on. Despite us being estranged, one thing she’s given me is to really love who I am, to sort of love my body, and really be proud of who I am as a person. And I think that carried through in my art and the women that I work with are women that I really respond to and how they carry themselves. And so that’s the allure for me in using them in my work first of all. They’re individuals, they’re women, who are very much comfortable in their own skin.

My collaboration with Solange Knowles? The collaboration stems beyond just two people making things. It’s about two people really appreciating and enjoying each others way of how they navigate and think and make things that they’re excited about. It’s like this barter system, it’s like oh can I do your teaser and I’m like “oh can you dj my after party” and she’s like “can you do the cover for my album” and its like “oh can you come to Switzerland to perform.”

My mother raised my brother and I Buddhist. That’s something many people don’t know about me. And I think the reason why I don’t tell a lot of people is because I like to show it by my life. I don’t believe that you have to tell all aspects of you, you just have to live it. Faith has nothing to do with some outwardly religious thing; it’s your own spirit.

I think my biggest dream is now. Is that I would be doing what I wanted to do and happy doing it. If I was going to be a lawyer, if I made that decision, that I would be happy doing it. That I was going to enjoy doing it, regardless.

Made By

Cinematography: Ian McAlpin & Danielle Calodney

Edited by: Danielle Calodney

Interviewed by Laura Lehmann

Produced by: Batsheva Lazarus & Laura Lehmann

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