What happens when an artist follows his instincts? In this film, artist Rashid Johnson charts a decade-long aesthetic and professional development from his early portrait photographs to his later conceptually-based sculptures made from glass, wood, and tile. Johnson is “a materialist at heart” and his earliest work—painterly, monochromatic photographs of African-American men made with obsolete 19th-Century techniques—evidence a career-long fascination with materials and processes. The photographs also unexpectedly get him his first gallery show while still an unknown undergraduate student at Columbia College in Chicago. It’s the start of a successful exhibition run, including shows at the prestigious Venice Biennale and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, that continues to this day. At Hauser & Wirth gallery in New York City, Johnson helps install large-scaled, formally exacting sculptural works made with what have become signature materials like shea butter, black soap and wax, and zebra skin. Though those materials evoke Johnson’s own complicated relationship to African-American identity and culture, the artists says, “My black-ness…[has] a strong effect on how my work is born and around the conversation that inevitably will happen, but I don’t think that it’s really the sum off all what my work is. And I think formally I’m trying to approach art-making in a way that is part of the bigger history of art.” Featuring works from the exhibitions 25 Days after October (2010) at Massimo De Carlo, Milan; ILLUMInations (2011) at the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy; RUMBLE (2012) at Hauser & Wirth, New York; and Islands (2014) at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles. Featuring music from the album Jazz Sampler by Kevin MacLeod.

Rashid Johnson (b. 1977, Chicago, Illinois, USA) lives and works in New York and Brooklyn, New York.

CREDITS | ART21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Michelle Chang. Cinematography: Don Edler, Ian Forster, John Marton, Jared Schiller, Andrew David Watson. Sound: Nicholas Lindner & Wesley Miller. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Paulina V. Ahlstrom & Maren Miller. Design: CRUX Design & Open. Artwork: Rashid Johnson. Music: Kevin MacLeod. Thanks: Stephanie Andreou, Cristopher Canizares, Maisey Cox, David Kordansky Gallery, Jen Durbin, Alex Ernst, Hauser & Wirth New York, Marc Payot, The 1896 Studio & Stages, Andrea Schwan, & Venice Biennale. An ART21 Workshop Production. © ART21, Inc. 2015. All rights reserved.

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One Response to Rashid Johnson Keeps His Cool

  1. Malika says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this video. It makes me take a new and different look at not just how to approach my art, but to be daring and to take chances with the exploration of my practice and feel good about me as an artist – thank you, namaste

    peace and blessings,

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