With the online exhibition Untitled Anxious Red Drawings, American artist Rashid Johnson introduces a selection of new works made since the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic. Using oil stick on cotton rag paper, the artist has here updated the visual language of his long-established Anxious Men series, in which deceptively crude archetypal faces express the fundamental tensions and traumas that course through contemporary life. By departing from his signature use of black wax to adopt a blood red medium for the first time in this well-known series, Johnson captures the 'life and death' urgency of an unprecedented moment that is now both separating and connecting communities around the globe. His 'Anxious Red Drawings' could be read as history paintings for our times.
Whereas Johnson’s Anxious Men series has been characterised by faces scratched into the pictorial surface in a kind of drawing through erasure, his new 'Anxious Red Drawings' employ only the direct application of intense colour. The repeated motif in his new works suggest both the ongoing context of global instability and a new reality to which everyone must bear witness and in which everyone must participate.
Johnson’s frenetically drawn, iconic faces confront the viewer with a visceral immediacy. In this respect, the medium of drawing is critical for Johnson. ‘I’ve never thought of drawings as a precursor to a more substantial object,’ he has said. ‘I’ve always thought of drawings as objects that are final’. At a time when the world has come to a standstill, Johnson reflects on the solitary nature of his practice and the autonomy that comes with drawing, he describes social distance as deeply complicated yet familiar as he is used to working alone. In this respect, he says, ‘it has not changed much for my drawings, but it has changed my thinking’.
Rashid Johnson will donate 10% of his proceeds of the sale of works from this exhibition to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, matching Hauser & Wirth’s commitment to support the Fund through donation of 10% of its gross profits from all online exhibitions, as part of the gallery’s ongoing #artforbetter initiative.
Press release courtesy Hauser & Wirth.