Rashid Johnson


Rashid Johnson

Rashid Johnson
Born 1977, Chicago IL, USA                        
Lives and works in New York, NY

Johnson’s wall based sculptures are similar to Armleder’s furniture sculptures or other ‘arrangements’ in that they are perceived and read as paintings, frontal and indexical. Instead of using paint on canvas, Johnson rather creates shelf like assemblages, made of tiles or mirror pieces. His artworks most closely resemble altar pieces in that they depict objects, LP covers and other paraphernalia which try to appropriate a series of historical fuelled items with African-American relevance into a new composition. The artist predominately works with photographs, sculpture and film, but his display method holds an undeniably painterly quality, the reading of the works, including his latest fire branded wood panels are iconic, wall hung objects that speak in the canon of Basquiat, Ligon and (Cady) Noland.

In Souls of Black Folk, 2010, he has “created a fictionalized reading room/library for Sigma Pi Phi, the first African American Greek-lettered fraternity, a secret society perhaps better known simply as "the Boulé. Its main feature is a major sculptural installation populated by books, painted marks, found objects and other materials drawn from Johnson’s own personal iconography and research. By conceiving of an imaginary library for the Boulé, he has constructed a metaphor, in physical form, for that group’s accomplishments and contradictions. But he has also created a complex rendering of a hidden facet of 20th century American history, shedding light on its political as well as its mystical implications.” [1]
Rashid Johnson represents the Zeitgeist for where the discourse on painting is now, today.  His symbolically loaded wall and floor works continue to push the boundaries between painting and sculpting and challenge our expectations.  The tactile surfaces have a ‘luscious physicality’, but they should not be mistaken for nostalgia or self-portrait.  They hold ambiguous forms, whirl up a kind of visual anarchy and seem to speak a visceral language, but we are given no translation for that language, no guide. The works rather create a new non-recognisable landscape of images with no real referent but they offer an exploration of semiotic systems and iconography that is based in and around African-American history.

No matter what material Johnson uses, he goes on saying that “like a vehicle that could marry contradictory symbols and signifiers so that they’re occupying the same space.” he leaves the final interpretation up to the viewer.
[1]