|Les Trois Femmes Noires|
|Detail from Tamika sur une Chaise Lounge avec Monet|
Thomas' work is inspired by a variety of sources, some of which are quite unexpected. There was a copy of one of the 18 volumes of The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement (circa 1971) that she liberally borrows from/lampoons in her work. The second gallery in the exhibit contains rooms that Thomas created with input from her models that often provide the backdrop for her paintings. The furniture apparently comes from IKEA and Thomas then finds retro fabrics and the pieces are reupholstered to create the vintage feel. (It's easier to imagine Thomas scouring flea markets on the Lower East Side for this furniture than finding these fabrics at any self-respecting store.) The books on the coffee table in this room are all references to the struggle of African-Americans: The Biography of Malcolm X, Roots, and A Raisin in the Sun.
Photography is an important aspect of Thomas' process, and there was an entire wall of photographic studies of the models in different poses and locations that would eventually be incorporated into her work. A number of Thomas' paintings contain women in the classic Odalisque pose made famous by Ingres. I don't think it's a coincidence that the most popular definition of "odalisque" comes from the Turkish word meaning slave or concubine. Again, Thomas turns the traditional on its head by appropriating the image and inserting her powerful black women into the scene.
I enjoyed the exhibit immensely, and I was not alone. When we entered the exhibit, a conservative looking older woman dressed in a brown tweed suit was on her cell phone with a friend. "I'm at the Mickalene Thomas exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, " I overheard her say. "You have to come see it. This is exactly the way I want to paint!" I'm sure that Thomas would join me in saying "More power to you, sister!"