Drawn to Mickalene Thomas

Celebrating the renowned artist with a comic about her life and work

January 27, 2022
Black woman sitting on a chair in the center of the cover with her hand resting on her forehead set against a patchwork background of colorful geometric and floral patterns. Text  reads, “Mickalene Thomas: Portrait”
Cover of "Portrait," a comic about artist Mickalene Thomas. All illustrations by Shayna Cohen.

When contemporary artist Mickalene Thomas was in art school, she couldn’t afford traditional materials and gravitated towards craft stores and the glitter and rhinestones within. Her paintings speak to female empowerment and of women of color owning and defining their own spaces.

Yarn. Glitter. Rhinestones. Mickalene Thomas transformed these non-traditional materials into unique works of art. Illustrator Shayna Cohen also has a way with alchemy as she portrays the artist in "Portrait: A Comic About Mickalene Thomas." And that magic begins with the cover. Mickalene is portrayed in multi-patterned clothing surrounded by an equally dynamic (and fabulous) series of colors and shapes. Inspired not only by the story Mickalene tells and her use of materiality and pattern, Shayna also used the artist’s Instagram account as a source for visual cues. Everyone who looks at the comic is immediately taken by the cover. But that’s just the beginning!

Artist Mickalene Thomas sits at an art table painting a portrait. Above her are boxes each showing craft supplies with the text "I could aford yarn...glitter...rhinestones.."

The comic begins with Mickalene in art school, having little money for art supplies, but enough money to buy materials at a craft store. Undeterred, she begins to work with craft supplies, creating original and imaginative works. “As I acquired these materials, I began to find meanings and ways to use them in my own work as a way of identifying myself,” Mickalene says, a turning point where her materials, in a way, helped her find her artistic voice.

A child walks along a wall of art in a museum. The text says "It's really important for me as an artist to have a representation of myself so that youths can see themselves in these particular environments like museums. When they see my work with all the art history that when they're standing here..."

What’s wonderful, too, is Shayna’s creation of the child at the end, wandering through the museum, while we read the artist's thoughts on the importance of representation. We see the child's forlorn face after she passes painting after painting without out seeing anyone who looks like her until, thanks to Mickalene Thomas, she does.

This comic is part of a series Drawn to Art: Ten Tales of Inspiring Women Artists that illuminates the stories of ten women artists in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were each drawn by a woman student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design.

We invite you to read the comic and share with your friends and young people in your life.


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