Bold, glitzy, and exaggerated, Mickalene Thomas’s paintings reference 1970s-era popular culture, as well as a current celebrity culture that simultaneously romanticizes and stereotypes female beauty and power. Her subjects, such as the women featured in Three Graces, are empowered, emotive, and fearless. They know what they want—and are unafraid to acknowledge it to the viewer. Thomas formally emphasizes this self-assuredness through the brash colors and patterns that surround these women, as well as in their glamorous outfits and the commanding poses they strike. In her portraits she positions sensuality and beauty as positive attributes, tools of strength and power.
In this work Thomas has re-created the traditional image of the Three Graces, usually presented in art-historical iconography as three women, representing conventional values of charm, beauty, and creativity. Here the Graces are updated as modern African American women, dressed up and ready for a night out on the town.
Mickalene Thomas (artist site, @mickalenethomas)
American, born 1971
Three Graces: Les Trois Femmes Noires
Rhinestone, acrylic paint, and oil enamel on wood panel
Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest), 2011 (2011.10)