Mickalene Thomas on Seydou Keita


RECLINING IN THE NUDE or posed upright on sofas, Mickalene Thomas‘s female subjects are always surrounded by a dynamic mix of patterned textiles. Mixed-media paintings and photographs, her portraits of African American women are inspired in part by the practice of Malian photographer Seydou Keita (1921-2001), whose work is shown above.

“I wasn’t trained as a photographer, but it was always a resource for my paintings and so I am always looking at Seydou Keita and thinking, ‘How did he do that?'” Thomas says. “I loved his work when I first saw it because it was everything you would not see in photography.”

“I am always looking at [photographer] Seydou Keita and thinking, ‘How did he do that?'” — Mickalene Thomas, The Met

Thomas talks about Keita’s methods and visual acuity in a Metropolitan Museum of Art video produced for The Artists Project. The museum announced the new yearlong online initiative earlier this week.

Founded in 1870, the Met’s collection includes more than 400,000 works of art. Based on the premise that artists from around the world visit the museum to find inspiration for their own work, The Artist Project will feature 100 artists sharing “what [they] see when they look at the Met.”

The inaugural group of 20 artists includes Thomas, along with Nick Cave who is fascinated with African Kuba cloth, and Kehinde Wiley who is drawn to the paintings of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).

According to the Met, additional artists will respond to the collection and share how particular works and galleries have motivated and influenced them in forthcoming “seasons” beginning June 22, Sept. 14 and Dec. 7, 2015, and next year on Feb. 29, 2016.



Mickelene Thomas on Photographer Seydou Keita
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Thomas introduces herself as a painter, photographer and filmmmaker and discusses the technical, aesthetic and cultural aspects of Keita’s work that move and inspire her. “I studied as an abstract painter and i was really excited about how these different fabrics collided but they made sense. They created chaos, but then this quiet moment with the figure. The resting spot is her face, her skin,” she says of the images created by the Malian photographer. “He has a great awareness with the gray scale… Even though it is black and white you can feel all of the color in the image.”



Nick Cave on Congolese Kuba Cloths
Chicago-based Cave is recognized for his innovative Soundsuits, sculptural costumes defined by color, texture, energy and movement. Describing himself as a visual artist, Cave says he first discovered the Kuba cloth textiles at the Met when he was 18. “It just brought some clarity that there are things out there that exist within the same mindset that I am operating out of,” says Cave about textiles produced in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “To be able to respond to pattern and its sense of order and rhythm …There is a sense of movement and motion… There is structure. but there is a sense of randomness about it, too.”



Kehinde Wiley on Painter John Singer Sargent
In his studios in Brooklyn and Beijing, Wiley paints portraits of young men and women of color, recasting old European paintings with contemporary figures from cultures largely absent from the art historical canon. “My work and Sargent’s intersect with some of the problematics surrounding class. In his day, he was commissioned to make portraits of some of the most celebrated families in the world,” Wiley says of the American painter. “Sargent is probably one of the best painters I know because he is able to make it look so effortless. …It’s about painting convincing us of our undeniable place in the world.” CT


Read more about these three leading contemporary artists in “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe,” Thomas’s first monograph; “Nick Cave: Epitome,” the most comprehensive survey of Cave’s work to date; and “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic,” which coincides with Wiley’s exhibition currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum.


TOP IMAGE: Photograph by Seydou Keita as featured in “Mickalene Thomas on Seydou Keita” for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s The Artist Project | Screen shot from Met video


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.