Nikko Washington pays homage to his youth through art

Nikko Washington pays homage to his youth through art
Nikko Washington (Photo credit: Jacob King)

Looking at Nikko Washington’s artwork, the first feature that captures your attention is his use of bold colors in his portraitures. The 25-year-old School of the Art Institute artist recently wrapped up a major solo exhibit at Café Logan at the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.

The “53 ‘til Infinity” creator pays homage to the Hyde Park neighborhood where he grew up and greatly influences his development as an artist. In case you missed it, you can catch Washington’s work on display at the Chicago Athletic Association in June.

Rolling out asked Washington about his first solo exhibition,

You live in Pilsen now but grew up around Hyde Park. How has your sense of community affected your work?

I always viewed Pilsen as being very similar to Hyde Park, so naturally, when I decided to leave, this was the first place I thought of. Pilsen has such a strong sense of community, especially the arts community. However, Pilsen, like Hyde Park, is being gentrified at a fast pace. It’s weird because technically, it could be [perceived] that I am aiding in the gentrification process by moving there. But I’m also a Black man, so I don’t feel as if my physical presence would attract the audience that these new developers want. My work revolves around my community, so my environment plays a huge role in the direction of my art.

How do you feel coming off your first solo exhibition at the Logan Center and how did that come about?

This actually isn’t my first solo show. My first one was back in 2016 and titled “The Bad Sleep Well.” However, this is my first solo show on the Southside in such a respected institution, and I couldn’t be happier. “53 ’til Infinity” came about through my friend Grayson Wambach, who believed my work would be a great fit in the Logan Center. His goal was to connect with the local community, instead of just the students of the university, and I think that it was successful. It’s funny when I was a kid I went camping at the Ratner Center, so it really was a full circle moment for me to have my work on display.

Talk about “Stiff” and “Thank You for Gentrifying.” What message were you attempting to convey with these two works of art?

“Stiff” could loosely be considered a self-portrait — specifically on how I fit, or … don’t fit into the corporate world. It’s based on a short period of time that I was working in an office and wearing a suit every day; it was basically the complete opposite direction of where I wanted my career to go. “Stiff” to me stands as a warning of what to never be. “Thank You for Gentrifying!” is self-explanatory. It’s a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of gentrification and its link to consumerism. The font and phrase is a mimic to the classic “thank you for shopping,” that I would see growing up. It’s my way of sarcastically coping with the inevitable.

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