Nikko Washington (b. 1993, USA) is a multimedia artist from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. His work is rooted in portraiture, and frequently centers the artists, activists, and influencers who have made an impact on his community. A believer in the idea that if people don’t learn from their history they’ll repeat it, Washington makes work that archives and contextualizes the present moment through the lens of mythology and storytelling.
The subject of fighting appears frequently in Washington’s work. A trained martial artist and boxer, he portrays legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, and Mike Tyson as larger than life figures emulating the gladiators of the past. Boxing is also one lens through which Washington addresses ideas surrounding racial identity and equity. Referring to the 1910 title fight between Jack Johnson, who was Black, and the white fighter James J. Jeffries, a.k.a. The Great White Hope, Washington says, “With racial issues, American nature sort of has this caveat of both sides betting on each other to lose.”
Washington’s studio practice is also deeply influenced by the fighting arts. He has used punching bags, boxing gloves, and riot shields as material elements in his work. His practice is also informed by the less obvious mental aspects of the fighting arts, such as precision and discipline. “The push and pull of the physical and the mental, grappling in the studio with my work—boxing gave me mind and body control that is similar to the mental head space of painting,” Washington says.
Washington’s visual language conveys a sense of heroism in his figures. His style marries Mannerist-inspired figuration with highly emotive abstract markings, w with brightly colored, gestural brush strokes expressing movement and constant evolution. Stars appear frequently in his work, suggesting a range of symbolic meanings from the celestial to the celebrity to the political.
“You can’t separate politics and art,” Washington says. “Art is reactionary. My art represents what I feel in the moment and what I’m consistently witnessing.”