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Q+A with Nikko Washington



RSVP Gallery recently sat down with artist Nikko Washington to discuss his upbringing in Hyde Park, his initial forays into art, working with fellow artists (many of which are his close friends) as well as his current work and future plans. Read the full interview below and check out his new works for sale in our store.




You were born and raised in Hyde Park, and still live in Chicago. Did you ever consider moving elsewhere?

I have considered moving. I want to live outside of the US for various reasons; mostly to get a new artistic perspective by changing my surroundings. However, I haven’t left yet because Chicago has this feeling that I would be looking for wherever I went but I wouldn’t find it. It’s the smallest big city, everybody is somehow connected. You also have to work for everything you get here and build real genuine connections in order to expand. If I ever do move, and wherever I go, I will come back and raise my kids in Chicago.


What about Chicago has kept you here and how has it shaped your artistic output?

What’s kept me in Chicago is the feeling of unfinished business. I want to truly cement myself here and further impact my community before I go elsewhere. I don’t have a timeline in mind, but I will know when I’m ready.


I read that you really got your start with art on a permission wall in Hyde Park. How did having such a big canvas to start out with affects your work?

Actually, my first large-scale piece was in my friend’s basement. The wall was where I was introduced to graffiti at a young age. A lot of my friends growing up like Vic [Mensa] and Corbin were into it, so I found myself getting involved. So I think I subconsciously absorbed a lot of what I know now about color palettes/combinations and the collaborative nature of art in general. Hopefully the piece is still up in the basement, because the wall was destroyed to build a target.




Does it still inform how you approach different mediums?

Graffiti changed the way I look at typography and communication. I still look at typography as an art form rather than just the traditional design language and use for it. Also, I look at art as communication as well, but a completely different type of communication that design can’t reach.


Does your process change when you switch from say, illustration to graphic design?

I used to look at painting and design as completely separate. I am very loose and abstract in my works on canvas, never trying to hide my hand or anything of that nature. When I was designing it was completely different, clean, unified, and symmetrical. Now I treat both of them the same in a way, very experimental.




Can you break down the process of working with artists (who also appear to be good friends of yours, i.e. Noname) and creating the visuals for their respective projects?

Going back to the smallest big city thing. Everyone I work with is somehow connected. Most of the artists that I have worked with I have known for almost 20 years, some longer than that now. I truly look at the work we create as a partnership between friends because of the mutual respect we have for one another as artists. It usually happens in person or over the phone. It’s always organic and never forced. If it feels forced it does not see the light of day.


Where in their process do you typically prefer to start the conversations that result in the final product?

I like to first start by hearing the music. It doesn’t matter if it’s in final stages or really just rough snippets. It’s good to get a base feeling of the work. Then I like to hear the concept behind the music, which opens up a lot of creative possibilities to explore.


Walk us through your current, personal work. What are the stories and inspiration behind “Study #1” and “Study #2”? Is this an ongoing series?

Study 1 and Study 2 are parts of an ongoing series of drawings. For me, they represent experimentation and unfinished conversations. In this series, I’ve used a lot of different materials that I have lying around my studio. Old brushes to apply paint, sponges, pencils, and spray paint to give the work movement and texture.


How have you had to adjust with the pandemic artistically?

It honestly has given me a new sense of focus and direction. I really got to sit with myself and reevaluate everything: work habits, subject matter, and what really drives me as an artist.


Describe your current workspace. What are your “must-haves” for a productive studio day?

I think a productive day is subjective. Somedays I like to get really far into a new piece, or complete one that I have been working on for weeks. Other days I like to just sit and digest the work. I may only paint one brush stroke but, I still will leave feeling accomplished If I figure out where I want to go with the work. My most important must-have is music. I listen to a range of music when I’m painting (rap, funk, jazz, r&b, etc.) so I can relax and get into a rhythm. Water is super important as well. There are no windows in my space so I have a tendency to stay in there for too long without taking a break, I need water to keep from passing out.





What outside media have you been consuming? Anything in particular that resonated with you?

I’ve been looking at a lot of photography recently, as well as studying architecture and furniture design. I’ve also been revisiting manifestos from the Bauhaus movement and Dadaism to see how their principles can be re-imagined in today’s climate.

What does the future look like for you, both short and long-term? Any plans/goals in particular?

My goal is to continue to push myself and expand on my work in different forms and mediums. I want to see how my process can translate to 3D/object making. I also want to focus and make a huge specific body of work that will be shown all over the world.