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b. 1977, USA

Rashid Johnson Biography

Whether working with photography, installation, film, painting, sculpture, or drawing, Rashid Johnson creates works that are marked by narrative possibilities, examining the complexities of cultural identity and history in the contemporary world.

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Johnson first garnered critical acclaim with his participation in Freestyle (2001), a group exhibition curated by Thelma Golden that featured works by 28 young black artists at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. He showed a series of photographic portraits, depicting an African-American homeless man that he had encountered in his home city of Chicago.

Since then, Johnson’s practice has broadened to encompass diverse media. A recurring material is black soap, used for cleansing in West Africa—where the artist lived as a child—and also for people with sensitive skin. Johnson usually melts black soap and wax and paints with them to create gestural, abstract paintings such as those in the ‘Cosmic Slop’ series (2011).

Johnson is perhaps most known for his ‘Anxious Men’ series, which began in 2015 as black soap paintings in which abstract portraits of black faces were scratched onto the surface. While the artist first envisioned them as self-portraits, the emotional drive of the paintings reflects the universal experience of anxiety shared by humankind. Later ‘Anxious Men’ works are also made from ceramic tiles and mirror pieces, forming such mosaics as The Broken Five (2019), which shows a row of five figures delineated in black outlines.

Personal and collective experiences of African-Americans receive careful contemplation in Johnson’s works. In the photograph I Talk White (2003), a white substance spells out the title on a mirror, alluding to the preconceived notions of Blackness and racialisation of speech. The Hikers (2019), a seven-minute film in which two young black men run into each other on a mountain peak, explores the anxiety that comes from unexpected meetings in an isolated space.

Plants are another recurring motif in Rashid Johnson’s artworks that testify to the breadth of his practice. ‘Escape Collage’ series, begun in 2016, is made up of the artist’s own or borrowed photographic images of exotic places, featuring palm trees and the ocean, and African masks in an allusion to imaginary escapes. In 2016, Johnson installed a massive labyrinth of tropical plants in the Garage Atrium at the Moscow Museum of Art, titled Within Our Gates, which contained such items as books by W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, and Frantz Fanon, and cultural objects such as shea butter and African rugs.

Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks, a solo exhibition encompassing the first 14 years of Johnson’s career, was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2012, after which it travelled to Miami Art Museum (2012), Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (2013); and High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2013). In 2012, Johnson directed a film adaptation of the 1939 novel Native Son by Richard Wright.

Biography by Ocula | 2020

Rashid Johnson Featured Artworks

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Untitled Broken Crowd by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonUntitled Broken Crowd, 2019Ceramic tile, mirror tile, bronze, spray enamel, branded red oak flooring, oil stick, black soap, wax
191.8 x 241.3 x 7.6 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Untitled Anxious Red Drawing by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonUntitled Anxious Red Drawing, 2020Oil on cotton rag
76.2 x 55.9 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Untitled Anxious Red Drawing by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonUntitled Anxious Red Drawing, 2020Oil on cotton rag
97.2 x 127 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Portrait of a Broken Man by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonPortrait of a Broken Man, 2019Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, bronze, oil stick, black soap, and wax
73 1/2 x 48 x 3 inches
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled Escape Collage by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonUntitled Escape Collage, 2019Ceramic tile, mirror tile, vinyl, spray enamel, branded red oak flooring, oil stick, black soap, and wax
246.4 x 185.4 x 5.7 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled Escape Collage by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonUntitled Escape Collage, 2017Ceramic tile, mirror tile, branded red oak flooring, vinyl, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, and wax
246.4 x 307.3 x 6.4 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled Escape Collage by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonUntitled Escape Collage, 2017Ceramic tile, mirror tile, branded red oak flooring, vinyl, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, and wax
246.4 x 307.3 x 6.4 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Falling Man by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork
Rashid JohnsonFalling Man, 2016Mirror tile, white ceramic tile, spray enamel, vinyl, black soap, wax
245.1 x 185.4 x 5.1 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery

Rashid Johnson Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Rashid Johnson, Untitled Anxious Red Drawings at Hauser & Wirth, Hong Kong
Closed
16 April–30 June 2020 Rashid Johnson Untitled Anxious Red Drawings Hauser & WirthOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Rashid Johnson, The Hikers at Hauser & Wirth, New York
Closed
12 November 2019–25 January 2020 Rashid Johnson The Hikers Hauser & Wirth22nd Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Rashid Johnson, The Rainbow Sign at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles
Closed
7 April–19 May 2018 Rashid Johnson The Rainbow Sign David Kordansky GalleryLos Angeles

Rashid Johnson Represented By

Hauser & Wirth contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong, Zurich, London, New York, Los Angeles, Somerset, Gstaad, St. Moritz

Rashid Johnson In Ocula Magazine

Frieze New York Viewing Room Sales Exceed Expectations Ocula News Frieze New York Viewing Room Sales Exceed Expectations New York, 8 May 2020

Galleries have reported stronger than anticipated sales at Frieze New York's Viewing Rooms, which opened to VIPs on 6 May. The online event, initiated after the physical fair was cancelled due to COVID-19, opens to the public from 8-15 May.

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16th Istanbul Biennial Collapses Culture-Nature Divide Ocula Report 16th Istanbul Biennial Collapses Culture-Nature Divide By Stephanie Bailey, Istanbul

At the opening of the 16th Istanbul Biennial, The Seventh Continent (14 September–10 November 2019), curator Nicolas Bourriaud began his introduction with a clip from Werner Herzog's 1982 movie Fitzcarraldo, the story of a man who moves a steamship up a hill in the process of fulfilling a fantasy to build an opera house in the Amazon jungle....

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Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House Ocula Report Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House By Jareh Das, London

Get Up Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House in London (12 June–15 September 2019) surveys more than half a century of black creativity in Britain and beyond across the fields of art, film, photography, music, design, fashion, and literature. Curated by Zak Ové, works by approximately 100 intergenerational...

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Rashid Johnson In Related Press

Rashid Johnson on broken men, the black body and why Trump is bad for art Related Press Rashid Johnson on broken men, the black body and why Trump is bad for art 26 November 2019, The Guardian

It was only recently that the New York-based artist Rashid Johnson started to hike in Aspen, Colorado. And when he did, he noticed something particular–how certain sports, like skiing or tennis, can be restricted to the wealthy, and white, elite. 'But hiking, walking, is a real democratised thing,' he said. 'You don’t need fucking anything! To...

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'Please fasten your seat belt as we are experiencing some turbulence': young Chinese and international artists at Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai Related Press 'Please fasten your seat belt as we are experiencing some turbulence': young Chinese and international artists at Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai 13 April 2017, Art Radar Journal

Please fasten your seat belt as we are experiencing some turbulence is a group exhibition at Shanghai's Leo Xu Projects, a collaboration with Los Angeles-based David Kordansky gallery that mixes together both venues' roster of artists in a configuration that makes connections, suggesting the ways art can 'bear witness to an uncertain state of...

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The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World Related Press The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World 16 March 2015, Frieze

Featuring multiple works by 17 artists in different media – from soap and wax to ink and synthetic polymer, and good old fashioned oil on canvas – The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, curated by Laura Hoptman, staked its premise not upon the varied matter of materials, but the fungibility of temporal allusion. Purporting...

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Rashid Johnson In Video & Audio

Rashid Johnson: No More Water Related Video & Audio Rashid Johnson: No More Water 10 July 2018, Hauser & Wirth

No More Water at Lismore Castle Arts is the first major solo exhibition by Rashid Johnson in Ireland, encompassing large scale works on paper, two film works, and new sculptural works made for the historic gardens of Lismore Castle. Inspired by a childhood steeped in African American cultural influences, Rashid Johnson creates layered artworks...

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Rashid Johnson at Unlimited, Art Basel 2018 Related Video & Audio Rashid Johnson at Unlimited, Art Basel 2018 13 June 2018, Hauser & Wirth

Rashid Johnson’s large grid installation Antoine’s Organ (2016) injects a sprawling, heterogeneous ecosystem into a rigid armature of black steel scaffolding. Visually evoking prison cells and Sol LeWitt’s open Minimalist cubes alike, Antoine’s Organ plays on the structure of the grid and the form’s associations with containment, rigor, and...

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