Rashid Johnson - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Chicago, Steve Turner at NEXT Chicago, Robert Davis / Michael Langlois and Rashid Johnson: The Blood We Shed for You was Divine, 24 – 28 April 2008

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘“Post-black art” is basically the most recent version of this new-negro-ness. I think it speaks to the idea that the black character seems to always need some sort of reinvention. He or she is constantly in the process of a new discovery ... It’s fairly complicated. But it’s interesting to me in a lot of ways, and something that I’ve explored, but with an understanding of the more humorous aspects.’

    - RASHID JOHNSON, 2013

    Rashid Johnson investigates the construction of identity. Through the exploration of his own history and engagement with black creative and intellectual figures, he challenges embedded ways of thinking about the black experience in America. His multivalent works make manifest that there are, and have been, multiple experiences. Associated with a contemporary movement that has been called Post-Black Art, Johnson builds his narratives using sardonic plays on race, contradiction and paradox as ways to redefine notions of blackness.

    The present lot exemplifies Johnson’s dynamic relationship with historical African American creatives. He reproduces ‘We Real Cool,' a 1959 poem by Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks, whose work characterises the simmering political mood of the Civil Rights era. The poem itself is based on a scene she witnessed in her Chicago neighbourhood, in which seven young men had skipped school to hang in a pool hall. Johnson also grew up on the outskirts of Chicago; his choice of Brooks, a highly influential figure in the city's literary scene, forms a secondary response to their shared environment. The canvas makes stylistic reference to graffiti and street culture, an aesthetic predominantly African American in origin that developed in the late 1970s. Through a grainy and rough surface akin to a brick wall, and sprayed letters that suggest pressure to compose the work quickly, We Real Cool builds a myriad of African American histories into its canvas. It is both humorous and serious in its electrifying presentation: the pathos of death in the final line cuts through its punchy jazz rhythm, a stark reminder of the high mortality rate among young black men.


We Real Cool

acrylic, grain on canvas
274.3 x 223.5 cm (108 x 88 in.)

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £116,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 12 February 2015 7pm