Rashid Johnson - AMERICAN AFRICAN AMERICAN New York Friday, February 8, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York

    This work will be offered at auction in May 2019.

  • Catalogue Essay

    Born 1977, Chicago, IL
    Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY

    2002-2005, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
    2000 BA, Columbia College, Chicago, IL

    Selected honors: David C. Driskell Prize (2012); Hugo Boss Prize finalist (2012)
    Selected museum exhibitions and performances: Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Grand Palais, Paris; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
    Selected public collections: Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and many private collections

    In 2001, Rashid Johnson made his name as the youngest participant in Freestyle, the exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem that put forward some of today’s best-known African American artists. Thelma Golden, who selected Johnson for the groundbreaking exhibition, identified at the core of his practice, “a deep engagement with the history of conceptual art, but also the history of Black people,” with his work always operating “on an emotional level and an intellectual level at once.”

    Color Men, 2016, developed out of the work Johnson created for the exhibition Anxious Men at The Drawing Center in New York in 2015. The series was prompted when curator Claire Gilman asked him about considering “the use of the drawn gesture that unified all the different bodies of his work.” Using black soap and wax, a mixture he calls “cosmic slop”, Johnson was soon creating visceral portraits. As The New York Times critic Cameron Shaw observed in his review of the exhibition, “The series of loose portraits in black soap and wax animates what Mr. Johnson has termed the 'now space' of being a Black man in America: characterized by fear. The portraits have an undeniable urgency. Mr. Johnson’s handling of materials is visceral; the quasi-faces fill their white frames in a way that feels unavoidable, necessary.” In the present work, Johnson has smeared a mixture of black soap and wax against the backdrop of ceramic tiles. “I think of them almost as audiences to the bizarre political theater we’ve been witnessing,” Johnson said, referencing “global immigration issues, attacks on America, and attacks within America by police on young Black men.”

    Johnson’s frequent use of black soap is exemplary of the artist’s 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. In a 2012 article by Christopher Stackhouse in Art in America, Johnson said “I was celebrating Kwanzaa, hearing this unfamiliar language, Swahili, and seeing black soap and chew sticks around the house, things that were about applying an Africanness to one’s self. Then my parents evolved into middle-class Black professionals, and I was kind of abandoned in this Afrocentric space they had created. I was forced to negotiate what that period and those objects meant for me. I saw these things, as I got older, in Harlem and in Brooklyn, being sold on the street…So I started playing with those ideas and objects on a formal level, fueled by my interest in abstraction and mark-making as well as my interest in the constructed object, in the recent shelving units, for example. How do these things become signifiers? What are these things when they no longer function in the way they were originally intended to function?”


Color Men

spray enamel, soap and wax on ceramic tile
96 x 80 in. (243.8 x 203.2 cm.)
Executed in 2016.

Estimate On Request


New York Selling Exhibition 10 January - 8 February 2019