Society and Personal Identity

Hauser & Wirth, New York, looks to showcase Fly Away, a series of new paintings and sculptures by Rashid Johnson, featuring an installation piece which draws on the impressive qualities of the gallery’s architecture. Johnson’s collection takes its name from the time honoured 1929 hymn I’ll Fly Away – reflecting on themes of history, yearning and escape, alongside his commitment in investigating the relationship between art, society and personal identity. A pre-lude to Johnson’s forthcoming exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas city MO, his body of work will also feature planned and spontaneous live performances by pianist and music producer Antoine Baldwin, amongst his installation environment.

Small scale black soap and wax portraits which previously featured in a New York exhibition titled Rashid Johnson: Anxious Men will reappear in Fly Away as individual portraits, multiplied into unnerved crowds. This first room will showcase a series of six agitated faces scrawled on large scale white ceramic tiles, encouraging viewers to participate among the simultaneous empty spaces between them. Johnson here asks the audience to read into feelings of injustice and violence and rebuke for crimes that have blasted holes in society’s fabric.

Fly Away will also present a new series titled Falling Men picturing upside-down figures falling through the air, depicted in Johnson’s signature materials of white ceramic tile, mirror fragments and black soap. The figures recall the animated figures from video games played by Johnson as a youth with flying heroes and dead bodies at crimes scenes can also identifiable. Johnson moves away from his restrained and representational use of colour in his third new series, employing it more freely across a series of large scale paintings titled Escapist Collages. The series of custom made wallpapers introduce vivid hues, making reference to the Brazilian art movement, tropicalia. The wallpapers are collaged over multi-coloured ceramic tiles, marked with bright spray paint and covered with black soap and wax.

Antoine’s Organ, the biggest of Johnson’s architectural grid works shown in the United States, will reach new heights in its themes of escape and identity in this upcoming exhibition. The lattice of bare black scaffolding will rise up the steel trusses of the gallery’s hanger like space, filled with symbolic objects from Shea butter mounds and video screens to live plants in hand built and decorated ceramic vessels by Johnson. New sculptures will also form alongside the Escapist Collages and Falling Men as a reminder of the process and its author.

Rashid Johnson: Fly Away, 8 September – 22 October, Hauser & Wirth, 511 W 18th Street, New York, 10011, United States.

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1. Rashid Johnson, Untitled Escape Collage, 2016. White ceramic tile, black soap, wax, vinyl, spray enamel.