Born 1966, Augusta, Georgia
Rico Gatson’s parents named him Aunrico, apparently after an Italian wrestler. When Gatson was three years old, his family moved from Georgia to Riverside, California, because it “provided more opportunities for Black families than the South did at the time,” he says.1 His mother was a nurse and his father had a landscaping business. Gatson loved coloring as a child and wanted his lines to be crisp. Today, hard-edged lines abound in his work. “I find maximal pattern to be really soothing,” he has said.2 He graduated with a BA in studio art (1989) from Bethel College near St. Paul, Minnesota, where he also played football. He earned an MFA in sculpture (1991) from the Yale University School of Art in New Haven, Connecticut, studying with the abstract sculptor and celebrated teacher David von Schlegell. Gatson likes to call his paintings “painted things,” he has said, because “it kinda makes them sculpture.”
Gatson’s art explores issues of race, history, and identity, at times incorporating historical photos, historical footage, and his own family photos. Various works have alluded to the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, the Confederate flag, the Black Panthers, burning crosses, African textiles, and the killing of eighteen-year-old Meredith Hunter at the 1969 Altamont music festival in California. In 2019, Gatson enlivened a Florida parking complex with huge, colorful triangles, a reference to the mountaintop imagery in Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech. The year before, he completed another very public commission, filling the 167th Street subway station in the Bronx, New York, with eight mosaics portraying figures with ties to the borough, such as Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and right fielder Reggie Jackson. The murals are extensions of Gatson’s popular “Icons” series, which feature bands of color emanating from a collaged photo of a historical figure. The Highpoint print Harriet (cat. no. 146) is based on his painting/Citation: In printmaking, materials or objects that are affixed to the surface of a print by gluing or other means and intended as part of the final composition. Harriet Tubman (2018), which celebrates the famous abolitionist and political activist.
In 2017, the Studio Museum in Harlem, in New York, mounted “Rico Gatson: 2007–2017.” Other solo exhibitions include a 2011 midcareer retrospective at New York’s Exit Art called “Three Trips Around the Block” (the title refers to a walk Gatson took with his brother after his brother was released from prison), and “African Fractals” (2006), Cheekwood Museum, Nashville, Tennessee. He has also exhibited at the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson; Whitney Museum at Altria, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Denver Art Museum; Essl Museum, Vienna; Gana Art Center, Seoul, South Korea; Jewish Museum, New York; and many other locations. In 2001, he received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award. Gatson lives in Queens, New York, very near his Brooklyn studio.
—Marla J. Kinney
Rico Gatson, email correspondence with the author, April 2020. ↩︎
Rico Gatson, “Rico Gatson,” School of Visual Arts, New York, video, 1:09:30, from a lecture posted March 24, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWzuS6vGxLM&t=329s. ↩︎