From the New York Times video: Pool Party | Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont

 

FOR THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, Brooklyn-based Mickalene Thomas has decamped to a property in Salisbury, Conn., during “kids-away-from-school” time with Racquel Chevremont, her partner in work and life, and their three children. Purchased in 2013, Thomas calls the 19th century country house a “safe haven.” It sits on six-and-half acres and boasts a pool, zip line, tree house, and trampoline. There is also an “art barn” where she keeps a studio on the second floor and makes most of her works on paper.

“I’m able to experiment, do research… to think. And, most importantly, be in nature,” Thomas tells Upstate Diary. Appearing twice a year, the publication explores “the private worlds of very cool artists—creators with lifestyles close to nature.”

Thomas centers black women in her practice. Her powerful images celebrate their diverse beauty and body types and consider identity and representation. Employing art history and fashion and confronting sexuality and vulnerability, Thomas’s images of women, dressed and undressed, are collaborations. Her subjects are her muses.

She makes collages, mixed-media paintings embellished with glitter and sequins, and photographs her muses, including Chevremont, against the backdrop of her furniture installations—scenes plucked from the 1970s, styled with an eclectic mix of patterned fabrics, carpets, and wallpaper.

“I’m able to experiment, do research… to think. And, most importantly, be in nature.” — Mickalene Thomas

GRACING THE COVER of Upstate Diary’s recently released issue No. 8, Thomas and Chevremont are photographed lounging in the pool. In her editor’s letter, Kate Orne, who founded the publication writes: “Mickalene Thomas doesn’t only dive into her pool; she also dives into life, and her art, with an exuberant passion. I think you’ll love her story.”

Both Upstate Diary and The New York Times “T” magazine reported on Thomas’s getaway this summer. The Times focused on a weekend retreat and pool party they hosted with another couple, their good friends artist Nina Chanel Abney and Jet Toomer, an entrepreneur. The inaugural event celebrated The Josie Club, a collective for queer black women the four creatives co-founded this year.

The goal of the collective is to bring together peers, creating a sense of community and a network of support. “We all have these really intense jobs,” Chevremont, an art collector, art advisor, and former fashion model, tells the Times. “We’re all working like crazy and don’t know how to take time off.”

Artistic inspiration is everywhere at the Salisbury house. Derrick Adams designed a pool float, a big, black unicorn with a rainbow mane and tail. On the main floor of the art barn, the sofa installation is by Hassan Hajjaj. “Happy New Year” (2008), a photograph by Deana Lawson, hangs in a bedroom. A sculpture by Shiva Nataraja is installed on the lawn.

Thomas’s work is also on display. Two of her large-scale works, “Raquel Come to Me Two” (2018) and “Love’s Been Good to Me #3” (2010), are installed by a set of stairs. A pair of small collages can be seen on a wall in the children’s room. “Clarivel Centered,” a throw pillow Thomas made in collaboration with Henzel Studio rests in a pink chair. “Portrait of Maya #2” (2006) also hangs in the home.

THE 10-PAGE ARTICLE in Upstate Diary is written by Gary Lippman and fully illustrated with photographs of the artist and Chevremont at the Salisbury property. He notes that Thomas’s surroundings affect her creativity and her connection to nature dates back to childhood when she attended summer camps and early in her career when she participated in a string of residencies.

Lippman visits Thomas in her Brooklyn studio to interview her for the feature profile. She discusses her love of painting, and the artist whose work made her realize there was a place for her in the art world.

Art school was an eye-opening experience. Thomas, who earned a BFA and MFA from the Pratt Institute and Yale University, respectively, said she immediately fixated on painting. She fell “in love with the way oil paint smells, the mixing of colors, the desire of making something… It was like a first date.”

Mickalene Thomas says she fell “in love with the way oil paint smells, the mixing of colors, the desire of making something… It was like a first date.”

Although Thomas works in a variety of mediums, she prefers and is most comfortable with painting. “I love the energy, the buzz that I get from transforming onto this 2D surface, the gesture, the physicality, the movement, and the viscosity of the paint. It’s intoxicating,” she tells Upstate Diary.

After growing up in Camden, N.J., Thomas left home for the first time to attend college in Portland, Ore. While there she visited a local museum and saw a Carrie Mae Weems exhibition, showcasing her “Kitchen Table Series” (1990). The body of work focuses on the life of a woman. Her joys and challenges are explored through the lens of her relationships and played out in gendered domestic space.

The experience was transformative. Thomas said she never felt there was a place for her at museums. She didn’t feel welcome or like she belonged. Seeing the photographs by Weems changed everything.

“Here I am seeing something reflected that was so familiar but it wasn’t my family. It didn’t have to be my family. I understood the nuance. Everything within that composition, I could relate to. The mood of it, the gestures, the posing, the vulnerability, the anger…” Thomas says in Upstate Diary.

“The gift that was given to me at that moment was: ‘Here’s your opportunity. How are you going to tell it? What tools are you going to use? It gave me the agency, the insight, the readiness to tell my stories.” CT

 

Mickalene Thomas is presenting her largest commission to date at the Baltimore Museum of Art in November 2019. “Mickalene Thomas: A Moment’s Pleasure” will transform the museum’s lobby into a living room space envisioned by Thomas with new wallpapers, furniture, fabrics and a selection of her paintings, prints, and collages. The site-specific installation will be on view through May 2021.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 3, the Bronx Museum of the Arts is honoring Thomas and Chevremont, a Bronx native, at the first annual BxMA Ball. This year, the museum’s new art and music-focused fundraising dinner and after-party is celebrating graffiti and queer culture.

 

WATCH VIDEO from the New York Times: Pool Party | Mickalene Thomas and Racquel Chevremont

FIND MORE about Mickalene Thomas on her website

FIND MORE about Upstate Diary, which featured Carrie Mae Weems in its first print edition (Summer/Fall 2015), here and here

 

BOOKSHELF
Two recent catalogs explore the work of Mickalene Thomas. “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me” accompanied her exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts and “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires” was published to coincide with her traveling exhibition organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Contemporary Art Centre in New Orleans. “Muse: Mickalene Thomas: Photographs” considers her photography work and “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe” documents her first solo museum exhibition. “Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series” is a special volume dedicated to Carrie Mae Weems’s celebrated body of work made in 1990. The book features for the first time all 20 photographs and 14 text panels from Kitchen Table Series, one of the artist’s earliest series, and includes essay contributions by scholar Sarah Lewis and curator Adrienne Edwards.

 

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