‘I am interested in how these recurring themes are able to pivot in order to speak to the times we live in.’—Rashid Johnson
Unfolding across the entirety of both the gallery’s London spaces, the exhibition 'Rashid Johnson. Waves', open through 23 December 2020, is dedicated exclusively to the works of renowned contemporary American artist Rashid Johnson. The exhibition brings together new paintings and ceramic tile mosaics evolving from Johnson’s recurring themes of anxiety and escapism – subjects of poignant relevance in today’s socio-political climate. Johnson’s work has never ceased to confront the complexity of the human condition and the strenuous spaces we negotiate.
Among these new works is a collection of sculptural paintings in which the canvas is replaced by a mosaic of fractured ceramic glazed by Johnson in his studio, as well as wood, brass, oyster shell, spray paint and mirrored tiles. These constitute a continuation of Johnson’s Broken Men and Broken Crowd series. Between all the fragments contained in the works, a lyrical connectivity is at play, binding together these decade-spanning series.
Within these bustling compositions of cracked colour and line, rudimentary renderings of human figures come to the forefront. These wild and agitated faces evolved from Johnson’s Anxious Men series; wherein anonymous, abstracted faces are rendered in black wax on a grid of white tiles. With these new, ever-complex mosaics, the artist pushes the anxiety of the figures, both metaphorically and physically, to breaking point. Whether grouped or solitary, these ‘broken men’ speak to the collective and individual identities in the midst of shifting social realities.
Johnson updates the visual language of his long-established Anxious Men in new works as part of his Anxious Red Paintings series, which began as drawings made during and in reaction to the global lockdown, leading Johnson to produce expansive oil paintings. Using oil on linen and a blood red medium for the first time to depict the deceptively crude archetypal faces, Johnson has captured the ‘life and death’ urgency that has separated and connected communities around the globe. This red pigment, entitled Anxious Red, was created specially by Johnson for these paintings.
Born in Chicago in 1977, Rashid Johnson is among an influential cadre of contemporary American artists whose work employs a wide range of media to explore themes of art history, individual and shared cultural identities, personal narratives, literature, philosophy, matenality, and critical history. Johnson received a BA in Photography from Columbia College in Chicago and studied for his masters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Johnson's practice quickly expanded to embrace a wide range of media--including sculpture, painting, drawing, film making, and installation--yielding a complex multidisciplinary practice that incorporates diverse materials rich with symbolism and personal history. Johnsons work is known for its narrative embedding of a pointed range of everyday materials and objects, often associated with his childhood and frequently referencing aspects of history and cultural identity. Many of Johnson’s more recent works delve into existential themes such as personal and collective anxiety, interiority, and liminal space.
A new large-scale bronze sculpture by Rashid Johnson, ‘Stacked Heads’ (2020) will also be installed at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, made up of two imposing, black patinated busts standing ten feet tall and brimming with plants. Johnson will also display a participatory installation and sound work entitled ‘Rashid Johnson: Stage’ at MoMA PS1, New York, from 17 September 2020 – Fall 2021, drawing on the history of the microphone as a tool for protest and public speaking and its significance in hip-hop lyrics from the 1980s to the present.
‘Rashid Johnson. Waves’ is on view through 19 December 2020 at Hauser & Wirth London.