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New Season, New Mural

   Today, September 17, the Norton Museum of Art unveils its latest lobby mural, heralding the start of a new cultural season in West Palm Beach. Conceived and completed by New York-artist Mickalene Thomas, this site-specific mural measures about 770 square feet and is the third to be featured in the Norton's lobby.

   Thomas, who was born in 1971 and educated at the Pratt Institute and Yale University, is best known for her figurative drawings featuring deconstructed photographic elements. Cheryl Brutvan, the director of curatorial affairs and curator of contemporary art at the Norton, notes that the museum has welcomed Thomas' work before; her painting "You're Gonna Give Me the Love I Need" appeared in the Norton's 2011 exhibition entitled Now WHAT? But, as Brutvan points out, the eclectic nature of that work left a few question marks as to what she would create this time around.

   "Some staff members were asking me 'Is she going to be putting rhinestones on it?'" Brutvan says.

 The mural in progress in the Norton's lobby. Photo by Tom Brodigan.

   There are no rhinestones, sequins or glitter in Thomas' mural, entitled "Faux Real." Like many artists, she was inspired by nature's beauty. For Thomas, however, naturally occurring landscapes were just a jumping-off point. While on residency in Giverny—Monet's legendary French home and studio—she became entranced with the estate's landscape as well as Monet's manipulation of it within his paintings.

   "I really responded to him as an artist and to how he created his own artifices," Thomas says.

   Since then, Thomas has been cultivating a catalogue of landscape photographs from a variety of locations including Florida, Arizona and the Hudson River Valley. She then creates collages by manipulating slivers of her photos like puzzle pieces. In the Norton mural, she juxtaposes these elements, which are printed on vinyl, with other mediums such as oil paints and markers, as well as contact paper. This technique is reminiscent of Thomas' most well-known pieces. The scale, however, sets it apart.

   "I wanted viewers to have the same experience as if they were standing in front of one of my paintings," she says.

 The completed mural, entitled "Faux Real." Photo by Tom Brodigan.

   This is the first large-scale mural she has created outside of New York, but it conveys a strong sense of place. From the faux contact paneling (which harps to fake materials, such as formica and granite, used in home remodeling) to the images of swampy flora and ocean swells, the work is unmistakably Floridian. It takes the concept of site-specific to a whole other level.

   "[For the viewer there's] an aspect of the landscape that corresponds to who they are or where they're from," she says.

   Visitors to the Norton will be able to step inside Thomas' envisioned landscape through August 2014. This semi-permanent installation is a stunning and refreshing addition. The artist herself is quite pleased with the finished piece. "I feel like this is our best one yet," she says and smiles, revealing both a confidence in her work and a mouth full of braces.

 Mickalene Thomas in front of her mural. Photo by Tom Brodigan.

 


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