Rashid Johnson mixes painting and ceramic tile mosaics to express the anxiety and escapism of 'Broken Men'

Rashid Johnson in the studio 2020 © Rashid Johnson Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Axel Dupeux

Contemporary American artist Rashid Johnson is renowned for experimenting and mixing various mediums in his work, often using materials as diverse as CB radios, shea butter, record covers and tropical plants.

For his latest series, Waves, he brings us new paintings and ceramic tile mosaics evolving from his recurring themes of anxiety and escapism – subjects of poignant relevance in today's climate. On show at the Hauser & Wirth London gallery from 6 October, the work is a result of Rashid being "interested in how these themes are able to pivot in order to speak to the times we live in".

Among everything on display is a collection of sculptural paintings in which the canvas is replaced by a mosaic of fractured ceramic glazed by Rashid in his studio, as well as wood, brass, oyster shell, spray paint, and mirrored tiles. It's a continuation of the artist's decade-long Broken Men and Broken Crowd series. "Between all the fragments contained in the works," says the Gallery, "lyrical connectivity is at play. Within these bustling compositions of cracked colour and line, rudimentary renderings of human figures come to the forefront."

You can undoubtedly see wild and agitated abstracted faces rendered in black wax on a grid of white tiles. According to the Gallery, the mosaics allow the artist to "push the anxiety of the figures, both metaphorically and physically, to breaking point."

"Whether grouped or solitary, these 'broken men' speak to the collective and individual identities in the midst of shifting social realities," the Gallery explains. "Contemporary sensibilities are deconstructed and reassembled in Johnson's collages, resulting in works of resounding catharsis."

Rashid, who was born in 1977 and grew up in Chicago, studied photography at Columbia College Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His initial "break" into the art world came following the pivotal black art exhibition curated by the acclaimed Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2001. Since then, he has moved to New York, where he is still based, and his work has been exhibited around the world.

"There's a generation of black artists before me who made work specifically about the black experience," says Rashid. "But I think for my generation, having grown up in the age of hip-hop and Black Entertainment Television, there's less of a need to define the black experience so aggressively to a white audience. I think it gives us a different type of opportunity to have a more complex conversation around race and identity. It’s not a weapon for me, it’s more of an interest."

Waves by Rashid Johnson runs from 6 October to 23 December 2020 at Hauser & Wirth London.

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 240.7 x 403.9 x 3 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 240.7 x 403.9 x 3 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 240.7 x 403.9 x 3 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 240.7 x 403.9 x 3 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 240.7 x 403.9 x 3 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 240.7 x 403.9 x 3 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 294.6 x 491.5 x 7.6 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 294.6 x 491.5 x 7.6 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 294.6 x 491.5 x 7.6 cm

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 294.6 x 491.5 x 7.6 cm

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 294.6 x 491.5 x 7.6 cm  Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson Broken Crowd (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 294.6 x 491.5 x 7.6 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson The Broken Five 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 250.2 x 430.5 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson The Broken Five 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 250.2 x 430.5 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson The Broken Five (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 250.2 x 430.5 cm  Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson The Broken Five (detail) 2020 Ceramic tile, mirror tile, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap, wax 250.2 x 430.5 cm Photo: Martin Parsekian

Rashid Johnson in the studio  2020  © Rashid Johnson  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth  Photo: Axel Dupeux

Rashid Johnson in the studio 2020 © Rashid Johnson Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Axel Dupeux

Rashid Johnson in the studio  2020  © Rashid Johnson  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth  Photo: Axel Dupeux

Rashid Johnson in the studio 2020 © Rashid Johnson Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Axel Dupeux