Rashaad Newsome builds new cultural monuments out of the fragments of pop culture. He recreates high culture forms, from chamber music to heraldry, using diamond bling, ghetto vernacular, and hip hop beats. Creating his own distinct language and coat of arms, Newsome is already the recipient of numerous awards. His first solo exhibition in New York is on view now at Ramis Barquet (532 West 24th Street).
Katie Kitamura: Can you talk a bit about the genesis of your work, and in particular the way you use sampling as both a metaphor and a methodology throughout your work?
Rashaad Newsome: I have always been interested in language, specifically non-verbal forms of communication. As a visual artist I deal in the business of visual language. So given that visual language is a practice where images are used to communicate concepts, becoming an artist felt natural. In my work I use the equalizing force of sampling to craft compositions that frequently surprise in their associative potential and walk the tightrope between identity politics and abstraction. One of my issues in terms of looking at art is how esoteric it can be and how it is relegated to a sense of aesthetic elitism. Yet for me, art represents the complete antithesis of this school of thought. Art, when at its best, elicits emotional and visceral responses that are universally recognized and felt.
KK: You often work the divide between high and low . . .
RN: I often deal with the language of “high” and “low” cultures, both which come in quotations for me. I select “high” and “low” samples and combine them, which enables me to demystify their perceived distinctions and shed light on the fact that they are both in fact subcultures that draw upon each other. The results are often an acculturated affect, which I find very interesting. In many ways my work functions as cultural amalgams.
KK: Your work cuts across performance, video, collage and sculpture, and yet it hangs together incredibly well as a body of work. Can you describe some of the underlying process that ties the work together?
RN: I think it would be the act of composing. For instance, in the “Untitled” videos the dancers come to my studio and perform. I videotape the performance and using samples from that footage compose them into something new. I view those videos as drawings with the dancers acting as my pen creating lines, shapes, landscapes and an array of narratives. In “The Conductor” I take orchestral music, daily gestures and sounds associated with hip hop culture and compose them into a multi sensory performance. With “Ice Grill” I compose a culturally specific object into a unique piece of architecture. I think “Shade Compositions” represents the ultimate illustration of this practice of composing because it’s all done live and in real time.
KK: Your show at Ramis Barquet is called Standards, which I think refers to not only to the language of heralds that you employ in your collages, but also to the idea of status consciousness, which is so rampant in our culture. In what way do you comment on (and also exploit) the allure of power, wealth and position?
RN: The title came to me when I was working on the piece that was used in the Artforum add. “Status Symbol #12″ is loosely based on a standard from 1867 depicting the arms of Alexander II. I started to think about standards not only as an object but also as a concept. As I mentioned before composing is a big part of my work. In the concerto form, the soloist would often compose and perform a cadenza as a way to express their individual interpretation of the piece. In my own way my work functions as a cadenza expressing my Issues having to do with race, class, gender and sexuality that are somehow bound to identities that are more restrained then myself. In a sense I’m trying to make work that is unrestrained by the suffocating and outmoded standards prototypically associated with class, race, wealth, gender, sexuality and art.