For his first solo exhibition in London, Chicago-born, New York-based artist Rashid Johnson presents an entirely new body of work and creates an immersive environment in the South London Gallery’s main space. Over the past decade Johnson has become known for works into which he integrates materials familiar from other contexts, such as wooden flooring, rugs, mirrors, shelves, books and shea butter, through a process which he describes as ‘high-jacking the domestic’. Questioning established definitions of the art object and its limitations, or otherwise, Johnson’s works also draw on his own personal history, often making direct references to the literature, music, cultural and political figures which inform it, in an ongoing exploration of the relationship between individual and shared cultural experience.
Entitled Shelter, Johnson’s South London Gallery exhibition takes as its starting point an imagined society in which psychotherapy is a freely-available drop in service, accessible to all through group sessions. He sets the scene for visitors to ponder the potential of such a scenario through the creation of a salon incorporating large-scale paintings, hanging plants, Persian rugs and six wooden day beds. In some respects this is a soothing place, where the carpeted floor, greenery and Victorian ceiling lantern, which brings an expanse of sky into the room, lend notes of comfort and calm to a space in which the carefully placed day beds encourage self-reflection as well as providing vantage points from which to view the wall-mounted works. The blackened, gouged, branded and splintered surfaces of the surrounding paintings, however, hint at a darker frame of mind and the hidden depths of the individual and collective psyche. Together they take Johnson’s enquiry into the nature and possibilities of painting, and the creative potential of reductive processes, several steps further.
In many of his works Johnson shifts familiar materials from one arena into another, testing assumptions about those materials, and also about the nature of art. Sections of parquet flooring take the place of canvas; mirrors are fractured and blackened to become the stuff of abstract paintings, shot through with figuration in the form of viewers’ reflections; and Persian rugs, objects of extraordinary beauty but firmly located within the canon of craftsmanship and design rather than fine art, take on a new and ambiguous status in the context of the contemporary art gallery. Here the rugs are suggestive of cultural ‘otherness’, referring to the Western history of romanticising notions of ‘the oriental’, whereas Johnson’s covering of the branded wooden day beds in zebra skins was a deliberate move to cite ideas of ‘the exotic’ by shrouding items of furniture loaded with associations of Western privilege in a material with distinctively African associations. Inspired in part by Johnson’s musing on what kind of day bed a post-colonial African leader might recline on, having recently read a book about former Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, the day beds typify Johnson’s capacity to mine and merge multiple sources to create something new with its own distinctive voice.
Johnson also curates the exhibition in the SLG’s first floor galleries, bringing together abstract paintings by three artists living and working in the USA: Robert Davis, Sam Gilliam and Angel Otero.
With thanks to Hauser & Wirth.
Every Sat, 3pm, & Last Fridays, 7pm, Free
Gallery assistants lead informal drop-in tours of the exhibition.
Notes to Editors
Rashid Johnson was born in Chicago in 1977 and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He has a BA in photography from Columbia College and attended graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, Seattle Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Detroit Institute of Art. Solo exhibitions include Message to Our Folks, which opened at MCA Chicago early this year, touring to Miami Art Museum this autumn, and RUMBLE, Johnson's first exhibition at Hauser & Wirth New York (2012).
His work has been featured in major group exhibitions including 30 Americans: The Rubell Collection (2008); Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self at the International Center of Photography (2003); and Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001); and in 2011 was featured at the International Pavilion of the 54th Venice Biennale. He is one of the nominees for the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize 2012, and the winner of the 2012 High Museum’s David C. Driskell prize that honours excellence in African-American art and scholarship.