Rashid Johnson at the Rubell Family Collection in December 2008
|Education||Columbia College Chicago
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
|Known for||Painting, Photography, Film and Sculpture|
|Home town||Chicago, Illinois U.S.|
I started rereading 'The Dutchman' – I kind of just pulled it off the shelf.
When I was young, I remember feeling a real thirst for opportunities around the arts, for learning about how artists function and how institutions work.
As an undergrad at Columbia College in Chicago, I came across 'Boondocks,' and then I watched the 'Boondocks' television show.
My composition often goes toward the black middle class or the black super-wealthy or strong historical black figures.
The whole ability to look at the complexity of race and any sort of associated -ism and still find humor, that's a very interesting space.
The way that light hits objects in life, three-dimensional objects before you photograph them, is really the story of photography.
I wanted my art to deal with very formal concerns and to deal with very material concerns, and to deal with antecedents and art history, which for me go very far beyond just the influence of African-American artists.
My mother introduced me to more academic-minded writers, Cornel West and Skip Gates. In her library, I came across, when I was very young, Harold Cruse's 'The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,' which is like a bible of Negro intellectuals from Frederick Douglass to Amiri Baraka.
When I was younger, I remember there was a really famous book, and it was called 'The People Could Fly.' And so this idea of, kind of like, black characters kind of jumping into space and kind of the challenge that they presented to gravity I thought was really interesting.
Race, class, childhood experience, the books I found on my mother's bookshelf, the albums I found in my father's basement – these things are all part of who I am and will always be a part of my work.
My father ran a CB radio business. I grew up in a cluttered space that was filled with radios and antennas. It felt alien.
My father owned a small company, called Gundel Electronics, where he did community band radio and some repair stuff.
I've always had an interest in complicating the way that we perceive the black character, whether it's the black academic or scholar or activist or black intellectual.
I say that I suffer from what Rosalind Krauss was calling the post-medium condition, where an artist essentially employs several mediums in order to bring to life whatever specific ideas that they have. For me it's always been that way.
I have an investment in the signifying aspects of the material as well as an understanding of antecedent bodies of work. That informs the way I make marks and make decisions.
Growing up in Chicago, there was a very particular type of home that would display the black Jesus figure. It wasn't a radical home. You wouldn't find these in a Black Panther house. There's still a strong allegiance to Christianity.
For me, all the materials and objects I employ come from a specific space that's very personal.
I can bring in all these different components, and I marry these components, and I let them get traversed by the viewer, who reorganizes them.
You can really learn a lot from young people and the way they view the world.
I've always been interested in this idea of a privileged life, probably because it's something I hadn't seen much of.
When I was younger, I would see shea butter being sold on the street, and I was interested how people were still coating themselves in the theater of Africanism. You see that in dashikis and hairstyles and music.
I'd begun to collect things that were lying in piles on the floor of my studio. I had run out of space, and I started to build shelves. I turned around one day and realized that that was the vehicle for carrying so many of the things that I was looking at and talking about, so they went from the walls to the works.
I was born in Evanston, about three blocks away from the Chicago border. My mother, at the time, was finishing her Ph.D. in African History at Northwestern University. Soon after my birth, my parents split, and my father moved to Wicker Park, which is on the north side of the city.
I've been interested in LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka's work for quite a while. My first introduction to LeRoi Jones was when my mother used to read me the 'Dead Lecturer' poems when I was a kid.
As an artist, I've always felt most comfortable outside of the art supply store. So domestic materials are the ones that most help inform what I'm trying to talk about and our familiarity as a whole – kind of the collective us, I guess.
I attempted to do yoga in German, and it was not particularly successful. So at that time, I started thinking about the idea of just movement and how I could move to de-stress.
My father had a big brick cell phone, before anyone had a cell phone, because he was really just into that kind of thing – communication devices. I grew up between my father's laboratory and my mother's library.
The thing that turned out to be interesting about CB radios was the ability to call out in the world with anonymity. You choose your handle. Race and class become non-signifiers.
'The New Black Yoga' originally was born from a film that I had made prior called 'Black Yoga.' And I was living in Berlin at the time, dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress around the project that I was working on, which is not an abnormal thing for me.
I was going through a divorce, and I had a lot of reading I was doing, and I developed what was probably a serious anxiety problem – because I was about as poor as you can get, in graduate school, and trying to make my work and keep my head above water.
The way that light hits objects, I think, is one of the more important things that sculpture and photography share.
What I really hoped to do with my work was to at least be able to define my relationship to race.
I don't have any other skills. Some artists say that to mean that their embodied passion for art gave them no choice. I say it, very specifically, to say that I really didn't have any other options.
Dealing with actors is incredibly complex because they oftentimes are like pieces of clay. They want to be told how you want it done. You have to then decide if you want to be the teller or if you want to give them agency.