Prime Time is a two-person exhibition featuring the work of Shinique Smith and Mickalene Thomas. Smith and Thomas have shown in numerous exhibitions together including African Queen and Frequency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Do You Think I’m Disco? at the Longwood Arts Center in the Bronx and My Love is a 187 at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. Prime Time is an opportunity to further explore the nuances of their individual working processes. Addressing different aspects of contemporary culture, both artists layer color, pattern and texture in their use of found objects and imagery. A mutual affinity for accumulation is a common thread that unites their disparate methodologies.
Mickalene Thomas’s lush and complex portraits of African-American women are derived from 70’s iconic imagery, vintage pin-up magazines, contemporary pop culture, the use of black femininity in advertising as well as personal memories of the women in her family. Usually depicted as servants or docile bystanders in Western art, the African-American women presented in Thomas’ paintings are the central focus; resplendent in rich patterns and colors and bejeweled with rhinestones; secure in their self-possession and dignity. In installations filled with fabric throws, pillows, vintage clothing and Afro wigs, Thomas photographs intimate vignettes populated by herself and models. Reconfigured on panel and heavily accented with rhinestones, these images of empowered women successfully negotiate the tension between a personal investigation of eroticism and self-identity, and a cultural critique of the overt sexual imagery so prevalent in today’s media.
Shinique Smith’s spirited works transcend the boundaries of individual media and explore the ambiguous area between sculpture and painting, the precious and the everyday. Her process involves the gathering of personal and cultural cast-offs such as clothing, furnishing, poetry and graffiti to create works that are both intimate and expansive. Disparate materials collide on paper or canvas, or explode across the wall in room-size installations. Her bales and bundles underscore the nature of exchange value by transforming unwanted and used objects into dynamic sculptural forms. Dancing the line between abstraction and figuration, color and texture, the histories of the ephemera brought together in these works are submerged into a larger collective identity—the experience of which is further enhanced by the memories and personal narratives that the viewer brings. Through her intelligent and deft use of materials, Smith’s work extracts the graceful and spiritual qualities of the mundane.