b. 1977, United States

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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Freestyle

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.

Black soap

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).

Anxious Men

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.

Other artworks and motifs

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.

Exhibitions and More

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.

Ocula | 2020

Rashid Johnson
featured artworks

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Surrender Painting ‘Pouring’ by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork painting
Rashid Johnson Surrender Painting ‘Pouring’, 2023 Oil on linen
121.9 x 91.4 x 4.3 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
Untitled Broken Men by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, sculpture, drawing
Rashid Johnson Untitled Broken Men, 2022 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, branded red oak, oyster shell, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax
125.7 x 97.8 x 6.4 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
Untitled Broken Men by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork painting, works on paper, sculpture, drawing
Rashid Johnson Untitled Broken Men, 2022 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, branded red oak, oyster shell, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax
125.7 x 97.8 x 6.4 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
Untitled Broken Men by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork painting
Rashid Johnson Untitled Broken Men, 2022 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, branded red oak, oyster shell, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax
125.7 x 97.8 x 6.4 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
Portrait of a Broken Man by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork mixed media
Rashid Johnson Portrait of a Broken Man, 2019 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, bronze, oil stick, black soap, and wax
73 1/2 x 48 x 3 inches
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled Escape Collage by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork mixed media
Rashid Johnson Untitled Escape Collage, 2017 Ceramic 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 Request Price & Availability
Untitled Microphone Sculpture by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork mixed media
Rashid Johnson Untitled Microphone Sculpture, 2018 Bronze panel, ceramic tile, mirror tile, animal skin, books, shea butter, ceramic, plant, oil stick, black soap, and wax
243.8 x 182.9 x 15.6 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Falling Man by Rashid Johnson contemporary artwork mixed media
Rashid Johnson Falling Man, 2016 Mirror tile, white ceramic tile, spray enamel, vinyl, black soap, wax
245.1 x 185.4 x 5.1 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
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Rashid Johnson
upcoming & recent
exhibitions

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Represented by these
Ocula Member Galleries

David Kordansky Gallery contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, United States
David Kordansky Gallery Los Angeles, New York
Hauser & Wirth contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong
Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris +7
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Rashid Johnson in
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