Stay Optimistic No Matter What
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
  • Her work is 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

…What is the one piece of advice I would give to some struggling in their 20s? To never give up…

Life is hard sometimes. Even when you have everything. It has nothing to do with money. That’s the misconception; they think it’s money. But people with money have difficult lives. You grew up with a silver spoon, and you have all the money in the world – life is still hard. We are human beings.

Have faith. Have faith, and whatever that may be. And faith has nothing to do with some outwardly religious thing; it’s your own spirit.

Made By

Cinematography: Ian McAlpin

2nd Camera: Danielle Calodney

Edited by: Ethan Young

Interviewed by Laura Lehmann

Produced by: Batsheva Lazarus & Laura Lehmann

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