He moved to New York in 2005, on the heels of the profitable Studio Museum present, and rented a tiny one-bedroom house on the Decrease East Facet. Quickly he embraced portray, sculpture, and assemblage as his major modes of artwork making, and commenced to analyze his personal identification by means of portraits of himself and others cosplaying as Black icons, from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass to the Supreme Court docket justice Thurgood Marshall. He made textual content work with direct warnings like Run (2008) and a digital print that asserts in a lurid pink substance: “I Speak White.” He created pyramid-like shrines in installations akin to 2010’s A Place for Black Moses, presenting a chantry with numerous choices: vegetation, books, black cleaning soap, vinyl data, and a gold-leaf-covered area rock.
In 2007, Johnson started making his Cosmic Slops collection, utilizing an amalgam of black cleaning soap and microcrystalline wax reliefs, and would proceed to make use of black cleaning soap in his work for years: in his altar Triple Consciousness (2009), the mirror The Second of Creation (2011), and Untitled Microphone Sculpture (2018), which collectively established him as a sort of virtuoso of Black magnificence merchandise. (Shea butter can also be generally present in his work.) The cleaning soap’s aroma is a strategy to evoke Black collective reminiscence; take it in and you may nearly see Harlem’s a hundred and twenty fifth Road, its numerous distributors promoting wares of the African diaspora from card tables as a sort of race pleasure.
In 2011, Johnson reached a brand new degree of stature when he signed with the mega–gallery Hauser & Wirth, making him one of many few Black artists with main gallery help.
(I work as a director at Gagosian, a task by which I’ve sought Johnson’s recommendation and obtained his unsolicited pitches for artists he thinks would possibly work for the gallery’s program.) “We had been following his work for a while,” Iwan Wirth, one of many homeowners, advised me. “We instantly acknowledged an extremely erudite observe and a extremely unique thinker. Rashid is a perpetual innovator—the work is continually evolving.”
In 2016, Johnson and I walked by means of Hauser & Wirth’s outdated Manhattan location, in Chelsea, the place he offered the monumental Antoine’s Organ (2016), a 20-foot-tall gridded set up overflowing with lush flora, books, shea butter sculptures, small televisions looping the artist’s older video works, and handcrafted pottery from which succulents and palms bloomed. On the core of the social sculpture was an upright piano performed sporadically by the pianist Antoine Baldwin. It was a exceptional synthesizing of the non-public and artwork historic with wider cultural references encompassing voices from literature, music, and demanding principle.
Extra not too long ago Johnson has turn out to be a chronicler of the angst that accompanies being a Black man in America. Within the fall of 2015, on the Drawing Middle, in Manhattan, he debuted his Anxious Males work, works of summary, distressed faces that grew out of the anxiousness he felt that summer season as he watched CNN’s protection of the Black Lives Matter motion. Extra not too long ago, on the Metropolitan Opera, in 2021, Johnson offered The Refrain, an exhibition of two big mosaics fabricated from damaged tile, mirrors, and oyster shells, every that includes 9 haunted figures that had been impressed, he stated, by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And in the event you journey by means of Delta’s new terminal on the renovated LaGuardia Airport, the artist’s 45-foot-tall wall of 60 ceramic faces, The Vacationers, is there to greet you. These are works of angst and pleasure, alienation and unity; they remind us, as we cross by means of these iconic public areas, that we’re not less than alone collectively.