Aha Moment: Rashid Johnson on Clyfford Still


Friday, April 13, 2012

Growing up in Evanston, Illinois, Rashid Johnson remembers school trips to visit The Art Institute of Chicago. On one visit, while horsing around trying to impress a girl, Johnson bumped into a painting. Chastened, he “decided that it was probably in my best interest to actually pay attention” to the docent’s remarks.

The painting was a large, black monochrome by Clyfford Still, the most reclusive of the Abstract Expressionist artists. The museum docent interpreted the canvas as an empty universe with a tiny crease of red paint in the corner that represented hope. Johnson was fascinated that an image with nothing in it could tells somebody so much. He had discovered abstraction.

Johnson grew up to work in photography, sculpture, painting, and film. For the past four years, he’s created black monochrome works using a liquid mix of African black soap and wax. Although the content of his work is very different, he credits the Still painting as an inspiration. “I often have conversations with people who feel disappointed by abstraction,” he says. “For me, there's always a second story outside of what you're seeing."

Is there a painting, album, movie, or other work of art that's changed your life? Tell us in a comment below or by e-mail.


Clyfford Still, PH-246, 1951-2. Oil on canvas, 119 x 156 in. (Art Institute of Chicago. (c) Clyfford Still Estate )


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Comments [2]

lance rutledge from Bklyn, NY

After listening to the segment about Mr. Johnson, I looked images of this work up on the web & was quite impressed. Very interesting, strong work. I'm a painter in NYC & am surprised I hadn't heard of him. Also,
I think much of the work in the Whitney Biennial, pales in comparison with his. I did think the Whitney show was pretty awful as a whole& I wonder why in the world such a strong artist as he wasn't in that show.

Apr. 15 2012 05:14 PM
Helen from Decatur, Georgia

I was born and raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. when I was 10 my mother took me to the Lauren Rodgers Museum in Laurel Mississippi. We went into the basement and found hundreds of hand made baskets made by the indigenous people of Mississippi. It was in the 50's when the Museum didn't have any idea about what the collection meant or what it was worth. We went through cardboard boxes filled with baskets. I knew at 10 years old that we were reading the stories of people's lives by examining the baskets. I still look at most art work as my chance to know something about another person's life.

Apr. 15 2012 03:15 PM

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