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 body of works does not hide from its ambition to be understood.’—Rashid Johnson
This red pigment, entitled Anxious Red, was created specially by Johnson for these paintings. The opacity and slippery texture of the medium itself brings a mobility to the works: a nod to the importance of movement and gesture within Johnson’s oeuvre.
Just as Johnson selects his typical materials and tools - such as shea butter and black soap - for the importance of their historical narratives, here he has chosen to use the canonically significant, and universally recognizable, medium of oil paint in order to communicate his message all the more urgently.
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, materiality, and critical history. Johnson’s work is known for its narrative embedding of a pointed range of everyday materials and objects, often associated with his childhood and frequently referencing collective aspects of African American intellectual history and cultural identity.