Mickalene Thomas: Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman demonstrates the artist’s ongoing engagement with portraiture as a key to personal and cultural identity.
A major feature of the exhibition is the film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, a documentary portrait of the artist’s mother, who has served as her muse for the past decade. Interspersed with excerpts from a conversation between the artist and her mother—former fashion model Sandra Bush—are archival film clips, snapshots, and scenes of her mother in her hospital bed as she suffers the effects of the kidney disease that took her life shortly after the film was completed. The film will be presented within a room-sized installation designed by the artist to evoke a 1970s living room, complete with period furnishings and wall coverings.
The exhibition also includes a group of the artist’s large-scale photographic portraits of her mother. Combining a compositional approach deeply informed by nineteenth century French painting with a keen eye for telling gestures and expressions, the images deftly capture the subject’s personal flair and dramatic presence. Trained as a painter, Thomas employs photography as a vital part of her creative process. These photographs demonstrate her facility with the medium, and the vital role it plays in the work of one of today’s most celebrated contemporary artists.