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NYC artist Rashid Johnson is creating striking work inspired by these anxious times

Written by
Howard Halle

Besides putting everything on pause, the current crisis is causing a major rethink on how things get done. For the contemporary art world (as indeed, for the real world), this has meant moving into cyberspace, with art fairs and other arts programming gravitating online. Most NYC galleries are now mounting web-only exhibitions, though interestingly, very few of them seem to be addressing the specific problem that got us into this mess. One noticeable exception, however, is "Untitled Anxious Red Drawings," a new body of work by Rashid Johnson, which is currently on view on Hauser & Wirth's website.

The series consists of oil stick drawings on paper in the eponymous color, which Johnson undertook as he and family hunkered down on Long Island after leaving New York. Traveling lightly necessitated the approach he took: "We packed really quickly," Johnson told Time Out, "so, I didn’t have much in the way of art supplies with me"

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth New York
Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth New York

Using red, he said, was an obvious choice, given its associations with warnings. "Red produces a sense of urgency, and in a poetic sense, for me, it's representative of the feeling of this moment in which we’ve been removed from one another." Johnson underscores his point through his imagery: A grid of oval shapes that evoke faces in a crowd. The motif is repeated in each drawing, in different stages of effacement created by building up gestural marks.

Johnson allows that he is also reflecting on the Trump era, in which the pandemic represents a sort chickens-coming-home-to-roost moment. "It's given concrete form to a lot of the things we've been experiencing in the last three years—the divisions, heightened anxiety and sense of helplessness." And he adds, the feeling of isolation and how we cope with it. "When there’s no more business as usual, you don't have the luxury to rationalize things; you’re forced to face them."

Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth New York
Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth New York

You can see "Untitled Anxious Red Drawings" here.

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