Bob Dylan's famous song, 'Shelter from the Storm' begins: 'I was in another lifetime, one of toil and blood. When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud.' Blackness is certainly a virtue in Rashid Johnson's work, forming as it does the backdrop to most of his paintings, covered as they are in pitch-black soap or scorch marks, as well as the central theme for his successful career as a 'post-black' artist – meaning one who is not confined by his race or colour, but somehow still defined by it.
The idea of shelter here is provided by four psychiatrist's couches lined with zebra skins, which wouldn't look out of place at the Freud Museum, given old Sigmund's penchant for animalistic urges and ancient symbols from other cultures. These daybeds have been upturned and stained, the Persian carpets blotted with sinister markings, perhaps representing bad memories. It's a shame you can't lie down on any of them and stare up at the ceiling, as not only would that help you get into the therapeutic mood, but otherwise you might miss the potted spider plants balanced up there, which neatly round off the feel of being in a shrink's office.
Apart from his being of African-American descent, Johnson is best known for his firebranded floorpieces and mirrored shelving units, although just one of each is on display here. This only goes to prove that he doesn't just play one or two notes and prefers instead to improvise, both in the wildly expressive scribbled and gouged gestures of the soap paintings and in his taste for other abstract artists, shown in a small curated display upstairs. The album of standards by improv-jazz drummer extraordinaire Art Blakey that's perched on the mirrored shelf is another reminder of Johnson's freeform greatness, whose recent rise (alongside another Chicagoan also showing in London at the moment, Theaster Gates) is unfortunately not reflected in the fortunes of black artists in this country.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The new black.
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Best!! ever its very beautiful i went with my school on Friday 23/11/12 its very interesting i really like it :)
Slick, hollow, opportunistic, dare one say it, cynical art.- cashing on on the fashionabless, in some circles, of 'post colonial' discourses (Said's Orientalism, Myths of Primitivism, etc), of which it offers a Janet and John level illustration. A terrible show that left me not just cold but annoyed that public money had been wasted on it.
South London Gallery has shocked and sickened me with it's new exhibition of Rashid Johnson's work; a collection of day beds covered in the skins of brutalized, beautiful zebras. I urge anyone who is interested in making a stance against animal cruelty to contact the gallery and express their own thoughts and opinions about the work.