Artists Rashid Johnson and Viktor Timofeev Share Insights on the Power of Drawing, Featured in Comprehensive New Book


“As an interdisciplinary artist who thinks about drawing, one of the aspects of my kind of post-medium relationship with art is that I really appreciate each and every approach to artistic creation within the context of its autonomy.” Rashid Johnson, a Chicago-born New Yorker -African American conceptual artist, he told me during a Zoom interview. “Drawing for me is drawing, and I love it and appreciate it in that space. I feel the same about film, painting, sculpture, acting, imaging, and photography. All these spaces have autonomy, they do not merge for me, necessarily. I really see them as individual activities that I tackle, rather than seeing them as some kind of amalgamated strategy. “

Johnson, a key figure in post-black art, is among more than 100 artists, including Miriam Cahn, Robert Crumb, Tom Friedman, Tania Kovats, Claudette Johnson, Otobong Nkanga, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Deanna Petherbridge, Christina Quarles, Qiu Zhijie, Nathaniel. Mary Quinn, Wael Shawky, Emma Talbot and Johanna Unzueta, featured in Vitamin D3: today’s best in contemporary drawing, a new release from Phaidon Press. The book examines how we have focused our gaze on drawing as a primary medium and central art form for the past half century.

The artists in this volume were nominated by more than 70 artists, critics, art historians and soholars, including: Iwona Blazwick, Louisa Buck, Mark Coetzee, Thelma Golden, Laura Hoptman, Geeta Kapur, Pablo León de la Barra, Christine Macel , Kate Macfarlane, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Zoe Whitley.

Like many artists who have been displaced from their studios during the quarantine, Johnson has turned to drawing more frequently.

“There is something really immediate in the drawing. It also allows me to work in a more flexible way, because I’ve moved around a lot and I don’t necessarily always have at my disposal all the materials that I’m used to having in my studio in New York City, and all the kind of comforts of that space, coming and going, ”he said. “Due to the lack of mobility, I have been inclined to draw much more than in the past.”

Johnson’s diverse work explores themes of art history, shared and individual cultural identities, personal narratives, literature, philosophy, materiality, and critical history.

“Escapism has been really central, thematically, in a lot of work I’ve done in the past. I think it has sometimes been misinterpreted as an ambition not to compromise, or to imagine that the realities that we face and the obstacles that are present and those realities are things that I try to avoid. I think there is a kind of duality and complexity in escapism. It can activate the idea of ​​the potential for change, and the potential for distance, movement, mobility and access, and how those things represent the agency of both the professional and the people watching, ”Johnson said.

He added: “Viewers want to participate and imagine the kinds of trials, tribulations and joy that escapism can bring. It has never been completely with the ambition to close your ears and close your eyes and wish the times we live in will go away. It has been more of an idea of ​​a graduation, after the hard work of confronting, negotiating and challenging some of the most complex obstacles and concerns that we have. It has many tentacles to me, the idea of ​​escaping in different ways, whether you imagine it through how I have explored anxiety, or if you imagine it through how I have explored the landscape in the form of escape collages. It’s really more agile, I hope, than simple. “

The term “escapism” first appeared in 1933. Encyclopedia of Social Sciences and it is often a pejorative term for behavior perceived as a departure from the problems, routines, and stresses of everyday life. But Johnson’s performance is far more complex than a distraction often found in entertainment or fantasy.

“It has never been about running away. It is about tactfully imagining how space can work and what is your relationship with it, and changing certain sensitivities and mentalities and being able to explore what is possible as well as being aware of what is happening in our current realities ”, he explained Johnson. “He is optimistic, there is no doubt about that, but not without being aware of the past and our banalities.”

Created before the pandemic, Johnson’s Untitled anxious drawing (2017), an oil painting on a cotton cloth, speaks of our collective anguish.

“Drawing is an interesting thing, in its immediacy, and I think drawing is an interesting thing, depending on how you define it,” Johnson said. “The drawing gives me a pause when I look at the drawing in terms of how I interpret what artistic tension is or what I am learning about that artist. When I participate in the drawing, the line and the gesture become really honest and definable. For me, drawing works like a signature. “

Conflict and chaos abound in Viktor Timofeev’s (AB / AB) / B (2018), part of a series of colored pencil on paper that uses two colors (red and blue) to represent two opposite populations, interrupted by external forces in shades of gray.

“I think of drawing as an activity that is outside of time: it is primitive and futuristic at the same time. You can open this window in yourself that creates space for the construction of the world without mediation with very simple means: a registry of the own personal file broker, ”said Timofeev, based in New York. “The definition of what constitutes drawing is broad and open, which also helps prop it up as a genre that is not just a means to a different end. That said, I also love exploring drawings by people who are known for their work in another field, such as choreography or sculpture, and therefore I really appreciate when documents like these are made public in exhibitions or publications. “

Timofeev said he doesn’t distinguish between his drawings and his paintings, “but I can’t say the same for many other mediums I work with.”

“I used to think that it all comes down to this fundamental act of drawing, but I’m not so sure anymore. There is this difference in process between functional drawing (which serves another purpose) and drawing by itself (which serves nothing else) that I think about lately, ”said Timofeev. “But I also frequently contradict this when I find that a drawing made as a crutch for something else is more successful than something that was made to stand on its own, so it’s a back and forth that I haven’t really solved and maybe never Will.”

While working during the pandemic has not altered Timofeev’s creative process, the quarantine has transformed the way he perceives art.

“In any case, it helped to reinforce it as an activity in which I feel lucky to lose myself. This year’s roller coaster has also made me think about how powerless ‘Art’ is and how important ‘art’ can be, capital letters are crucial there. It has felt like there is a tug of war between the urgency of creating art as a process versus its potential futility as a tool for social change, and the masks that these oppositions can wear, ”said Timofeev. “I am currently drawing with whatever is available, most often colored pencils and a digital trackpad.”

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