Artwork Detail

Express
2013
American, b. 1977
Black soap and wax on branded red oak flooring
72 1/2 x 48 1/2 x 2 1/2 "
University purchase, Parsons Fund and Bixby Fund, 2013
WU 2013.0010
Highlights
Rashid Johnson’s artistic practice is characterized by an examination of both the construction of identity—specifically his own identity as a middle-class African American man—and the history of painterly abstraction. To make Express Johnson branded flooring boards using custom-made branding irons that replicate the crosshairs of a gun sight, palm trees, and geometric shapes. The crosshairs appear repeatedly in his work, a nod to pioneering rap group Public Enemy, which used the symbol on its albums and merchandise as a reference to unfair targeting of black Americans. The act of branding the wood panels carries with it sinister connotations stemming from its connection to slavery and the subsequent adoption of the act in initiation rites of historically black fraternities as a sign of collective unity. Gestural splatters of wax mixed with black soap and gouges in the surface of the wood contribute multiple layers of mark-making that reflect Johnson’s ongoing dialogue with the history of modernist abstraction. His methods and materials—including black soap, a healing, plant-based soap mixed with ash, traditionally from Ghana—along with his engagement with the legacy of abstract painting, results in a compelling combination of material experimentation, metaphors, and cultural histories. [Permanent collection label, 2017]