An arresting double portrait of the artist’s close friends, Just a Whisper Away, the present lot, asserts the unabashed confidence inherent to Mickalene Thomas’s investigations of black beauty. Her signature rhinestones allude to an earlier interest in pointillism’s division of space, while lending a glamour embodied by her fabulous sitters. The woman in red establishes direct eye contact with the viewer, in the same way Edouard Manet’s nude looks amusedly out at her shocked audience in Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1862-3). In doing so, each woman gracefully reclaims her femininity from the clutches of the male gaze, defining herself instead by her own standards of womanhood. Setting a flower-power scene reminiscent of a 1970s sitcom, Thomas revisits the wood-paneled living room of her childhood “where the women of my family would come together for intense dialogues” (M. Thomas, quoted in L. Melandri, “Points of Origin: An Interview with Mickalene Thomas” in Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe, ed. L. Melandri, exh. cat., Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2012, p. 33).
The dialogue unfolding here is with long-held notions of art history, those that perennially suppressed powerful images of the black female, subjugating her to the maid, the slave or the erotic other. This interior instead opens up a space of freedom, a space in which black women can be proud of their bodies and their heritage. That this work is a diptych only emphasizes how comfortable each woman is in owning her space. Thomas’s women do not cower – they take fierce charge of their surroundings, boldly asserting their presence, ascertaining above all that the woman’s moment of liberation is just a whisper away.