Rashid Johnson: A Trailblazing Artist Redefining Contemporary Culture

This autumn, Phaidon proudly presents the release of “Rashid Johnson (Contemporary Artist Series)”, an extraordinary volume that celebrates the life and creative legacy of the remarkable artist who has left an indelible mark on a generation.

Few artists have reshaped culture in the profound and genre-blurring ways that Rashid Johnson has. This book not only mirrors Johnson’s penchant for defying expectations but also delves into the artistic ideologies that have propelled him into a position of significant influence in today’s art world. Within its pages, readers will discover enlightening contributions from distinguished figures such as Sampada Aranke, a renowned art history professor; Akili Tommasino, the associate curator of Modern and Contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and Claudia Rankine, an award-winning poet and esteemed professor. Rashid Johnson himself offers insights through his writings, along with a unique six-page composition crafted exclusively for this volume. This composition showcases the socio-cultural roots that have been pivotal in shaping Johnson’s creative practice.

Born in the vibrant city of Chicago in 1977, Rashid Johnson embarked on his artistic journey by studying photography at the esteemed Art Institute of Chicago. His creative evolution swiftly expanded to encompass a diverse array of media, including sculpture, painting, drawing, film, and installation. This diverse approach forms the foundation of his multidisciplinary style, which seamlessly weaves together a plethora of materials rich with symbolism and personal history. Johnson is renowned for infusing his art with both his individual narrative and pertinent political discourse. Themes such as art history, cultural identities, personal stories, literature, philosophy, materiality, and critical history are masterfully woven into his creations. His exploration of racial and social identity in African American history remains pertinent, driven by a fusion of traditional and contemporary techniques, fueled by cultural icons, pop culture, and his family’s Afrocentric influences during his formative years.

Fearlessly transcending conventions, Johnson channels his innovation and influence towards shaping a more inclusive future for Black artists within the core cultural institutions. His work addresses not only the challenges and struggles tied to race but also celebrates the joy and optimism within the framework of Black culture.

Johnson’s approach to tackling these intricate themes revolves around materiality. Reflecting on his consistent use of source materials, he remarks, “Ideally, I think of it as being generous. I say, ‘Look, this isn’t magic. These are the things that brought me here. Here are my reference points. I’m spelling it all out here.’ There’s poetry, there’s autonomy, but there’s also how clearly informed I am by other thinkers.” He emphasizes his desire to engage in a collective dialogue, drawing inspiration from literary figures like James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates. This ethos underlines his commitment to a larger project of self-examination and understanding within a multifaceted context.

This comprehensive volume features a visual journey through Johnson’s exemplary works, including iconic pieces like “The Broken Five” (2019), “The Anxious Man and The Falling Man” series (2015-2020), “The Crisis” (2019), and “Antoine’s Organ” (2016). Johnson’s artistic use of tiles symbolizes permanence and authority, adorning both intimate spaces like bathrooms and public areas like subway stations. The interplay of materials such as paint, oil, soap, and wax on tiles offers a unique juxtaposition, suggesting both defacement and artistic enhancement.

From dynamic live installations to abstract photography, Afro-futurist compositions, and sculptures, Rashid Johnson’s creations have commanded substantial prices at auctions, fetching six and seven figures. His works have graced prestigious collections and galleries worldwide, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Notably, Johnson’s impact was celebrated with a 14-year US retrospective that spanned across four esteemed museums.

The book cover features “Untitled Broken Crowd” (2020), a mosaic infused with black soap, oil, wax, oyster shells, and spray paint on ceramic and mirror tiles. This fractured yet vibrant composition, adorned with abstract human figures, resonates with the complexities of collective and individual identities within a shifting societal landscape. “Rashid Johnson (Contemporary Artist Series)” by Phaidon stands as a captivating addition, offering an intimate and intricate portrayal of this pioneering artist and his transformative body of work. Discover the world of Rashid Johnson – a visionary artist reshaping the contours of contemporary culture.

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