A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y 2009

Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Gift of Deborah Carstens; © 2009 Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas explores and expands traditional notions of female identity and beauty through her rhinestone-encrusted depictions of African American women. The artist draws inspiration from art history and popular culture, so her imagery is as likely to reference nineteenth-century painting as blaxploitation films of the seventies. A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, originally exhibited as part of a forty-panel installation at Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York, recalls Andy Warhol’s photo-booth portraits. The title of the work pays homage to “AEIOU and Sometimes Y,” a dance-club and MTV-hit in 1983 for the two-man group Ebn-Ozn. Thomas often titles her works after songs in this way.

Working from a digital projection of a photo-booth snapshot of her model Fran, Thomas outlined her subject’s contours in black rhinestones using chopsticks. For Thomas, rhinestones are a surrogate for the masking, dressing up, and beautifying that women practice. At first glance, the glossy pink panel looks perfectly uniform, as if machine-made. Closer inspection reveals subtle color variations and paint layers that confirm Thomas’s creative presence.