Having just re-released True, exclusively with OC, we asked Solange to interview her friend and collaborator Mickalene Thomas
—the artist responsible for the EP's beautiful cover art. Read on to learn about their collaborative processes, their families, and which songs Solange needs to play at Mickalene's upcoming Party on the Harbor at The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.
Solange Knowles: First off, congratulations on the ICA show in Boston! What portion of your work does this show represent?
Mickalene Thomas: Thank you! This is the first time I’ve exhibited work in Boston and it’s really nice to be at such a prominent institution. The works for this exhibition are drawn from both my interiors and portraiture bodies of work and date from 2008 to 2013. In some ways, I was thinking of this show as a more narrowly focused extension of my recent show at Brooklyn Museum. The ICA has also featured screenings of my documentary film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman
, and it has been great showing this in a different venue and on a larger screen.
I’ll be DJing at the ICA party! I’ve DJed a party for you before and have you over for house parties; you really know how to get down! What are some songs you want to hear? I want to make sure you are dancing!
That’s cool! I wish I could be at the ICA party! I get down at your parties because I like to dance and you throw a nice party! Well, I think that the ICA party deserves a little Millie Jackson, then bring it down slow with some Ashford & Simpson, and then bring it back up with some Betty Davis! Don’t hurt them too much, just make their feet bleed!
As you know, I'm a HUGE fan and proud owner of your work. Collaborating with an artist who has inspired me in such an impactful way has been a dream come true (no pun intended). What is it about the spirit of collaborating that interests you as an artist?
I feel the same way! It has been such an unusually inspirational experience working with you. I am always excited for such an opportunity because, as a creative person, collaborating allows me to explore ideas that might not come to fruition independently. Collaborating acts as a catalyst for growth and it pushes me in directions I can’t anticipate. It takes a lot of effort from both parties to relinquish complete control and when that happens, the magic begins and the results are off the chain.
I’m completely in love with the cover art for this new edition of True! After seeing your Brooklyn Museum show (three times, might I add), I became really connected to your collages. What was the process behind creating it?
Making collages is the part of my studio practice that I enjoy the most, so it makes me feel so good when people connect with them. I start by photographing my subject in an interior space installed in my studio or at a site-specific installation, like yours, which was shot at Lehmann Maupin gallery. After printing the photographs, I pick a few that have interesting compositions and expressions so that I have more than one image to start working on. I then recompose the photographs with other materials, such as Color-aid, vintage wallpaper, and even old drawings from my student days. I build a collage with an eye for varying scale, texture, and color.
Your use of color, patterns and textures is like no other! Do you have any color or pattern rules when creating your collages?
Absolutely not, there are no rules! If there is a rule that’s nagging at me, I try to pin it down and break it! The more contrast, juxtaposition, zig-zagging, mix-matching, and topsy-turvy-ness the better!
Music and art have gone hand in hand since the beginning of time. What have been some of your favorite collaborations?
The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol all the way!
Our first introduction was working on the trailer for the “Losing You” video. The set you designed was brilliant in a way that only you could produce. What was your inspiration?
That was a very cool experience! It was interesting having that many people in my studio and watching everyone and various the aspects work at the same time, and then seeing how it came together in the final product. For that particular installation, I was thought about how you would interact with the space, without knowing what you expected or wanted. I built the set I would make for myself, while researching images of you and your vibe. It is important that I figure out every single detail in the installations I create. I design every last inch—down to the outlets, faux flowers, books, and records—as they create a cohesive setting and context. No detail is overlooked because it adds to and ultimately shapes how the complete story is told.
I watched your incredibly moving film about your beautiful mother [model Sandra Bush] at the Brooklyn Museum. She was a muse and model for a lot of your work. My mother has really left an imprint on me as an artist. It wasn't until recently that I realized how much she has shaped my perspective during my creative process. When did your mother become such a focal point in your work?
I started working with my mother in 2001 when I was a graduate student at Yale University as a way of rekindling our relationship—we had become estranged from one another. At first, working with my mother was more of a therapeutic process and a way to build a new bond with her. I was encouraged by one of my professors to really fold this process into my work and use her as a subject and I have used her ever since. In doing so, I have learned so much about my mother, which has allowed me to learn even more about myself. I look at our relationship not only as mother and daughter but as a mutual artistic collaboration. The whole process has always been a work in progress, an unfolding and a relinquishing of the self, for both of us. I needed her in my artwork as a way of communicating with her, which was not always easy, and I still think we connected best through my art.
You’re a new mom. I feel like a lot of artist moms share the same struggles of balancing work, creating, and family time. It's something not many people address openly and honestly; just how hard it is for some parents to find their groove after this beautiful new addition enters to their lives. I know, for me, it took a year before the real creative juices started to flow. Has anything changed creatively for you since becoming a mom?
Yes it has! Being a new mother has taught me to value time! Not only with my own studio practice, but the time I spend with my daughter and the people I care about. Since becoming a mom, my creative juices have been flowing non-stop and I can’t get them out fast enough! There has been some struggle, I am not able to spend as much time in my studio as I would like, but I am hoping that will change because I am planning to bring her into the studio with me! I want to create a world that she can be a part of and then hopefully the separation will not be so much of a struggle.
I have to be honest, the art world used to intimidate me and I think it does for a lot of younger people who are just starting to show an interest in collecting. What is your advice for someone who doesn't know where to start?
You should always start by buying what you like, not what’s hot, not what you read about in the paper, and not what curators and critics say is the best. Start with what you can afford, like photographs, prints, and works on paper. And if there is something that is extremely out of your budget and you absolutely LOVE IT, save for it!
Purchase Solange x Opening Ceremony Special Edition True here