Arts / Museums

Artist Johnny Floyd Brings Reimagined Mythological Figures to Houston

From Detroit to Texas, the Painter Explores Multidimensionality and Blackness

BY // 11.18.23

Detroit-based artist Johnny Floyd constructs an aesthetically fascinating parallel universe in which Greek mythological figures are unapologetically Black. Inspired by Sun Ra’s afrofuturist spiritual jazz, unsung sports icons, and outer space, the artist adeptly creates challenging alternate realities, juxtaposing the real with the imagined within his oeuvre.

Floyd recontextualizes mythology for the 21st Century in his “GODBODY” exhibit at the Houston Museum of African American Culture. Currently exhibited through Saturday, November 18, this show marks the first solo museum exhibit of Floyd’s career.

Artist Johnny Floyd stands near his painting entitled “Particle Accelerator,” 2022, at the HMAAC. His solo show “GODBODY” will be exhibited through November 18 at the Houston Museum of African American Culture. (Photo by Ericka Schiche)

Reimagined Mythology

Floyd’s mythological protagonists, existing between past, present, and future, escape the psychosocial parameters of double consciousness. They exist in their own space-time continuum — ultimately liberated from the hierarchical construct of white supremacy. They experience a version of Blackness that transcends bleak dystopian realities of life in the United States. By subverting dominant cultural and historical paradigms just through their existence, they are, in fact, reimagined mythological characters.

While many of Floyd’s paintings occupy a neo-surrealist space, some of his paintings, like Cerberus (2023), also suggest Black psychedelia. Previously depicted as a three-headed dog in artworks by Peter Paul Rubens, William Blake and Salvador Dalí, Floyd’s Cerberus is a Black man with three heads: one literal and two imagined. Read more esoterically, the painting could metaphorically represent three selves or three states of consciousness from a Black perspective.

Floyd also recreates other Greek mythological figures including Castor and Pollux, the Minotaur, Chloris, and Pluto. Focusing on the eyes of Icarus instead of his fallen status, The Last Known Photo of Icarus (2022) captures resiliency. One of the most sublime, profound paintings in the exhibit, Black Janus II (2023) captures the duality of self and multiple realities. Floyd’s painterly version of Janus features pink lips and eyes, a navy blue afro and dark skin against a neutral grayish background.

Johnny Floyd’s “The Last Known Photo of Icarus,” 2022. (Courtesy Johnny Floyd)

Sports Legends

Floyd examines mythology’s role in sports by recreating images of athletic icons. Floyd celebrates basketball star Allen Iverson, nicknamed “The Answer,” by capturing duality within Question in the Form Of (2023). He immortalizes boxing legend Joe Frazier, known for The Fight of the Century against Muhammad Ali in 1971, with Resurrection of Narcissus II (2023). Floyd also preserves the legacy of former XFL football running back Rod Smart, who played for the Las Vegas Outlaws. Floyd reintroduces Smart — known by the nickname “He Hate Me,” emblazoned on his jersey — to audiences with HE HATE ME (2023).

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Johnny Floyd’s “HE HATE ME,” 2023. This painting is inspired by former XFL football running back Rod Smart, who created the nickname “He Hate Me.” (Courtesy Johnny Floyd)

A Mentor’s Perspective

Artist Annette Lawrence, a Glassell Core alum featured in the 1997 Whitney Biennial, is Floyd’s friend and mentor. Floyd currently works and resides in Lawrence’s studio located in Pine Lake, Georgia while she works as department chair and professor of Art & Art History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Lawrence connects Floyd’s work to a tradition of Black painters reinterpreting mythology, including Houston’s David McGee and Kermit Oliver. Oliver, once based in Houston before moving to Waco, is the first American artist selected to design Hermès scarves.

Lawrence first encountered Floyd’s work at the Nancy Whitenack-owned Conduit Gallery in Dallas, which represents Floyd. Floyd’s debut solo exhibit, “Hyperblack Spectacle,” was exhibited concurrently with a Lawrence survey at Conduit Gallery back in 2021. His work was also selected for the 22nd Two x Two for AIDS and Art auction, an event staged annually at the Rachofsky House in Dallas. The event catalogue featured his painting The Young Bol is an Alchemy (2021).

The Dallas Museum of Art also acquired Floyd’s painting Upon Reflection, I Am Aphrodite’s Pearls Strung Across the Firmament in 2021. Lawrence says she became interested in Floyd’s painterly exploration of “power dynamics, interpersonal dynamics, and racial dynamics.”

“I came across the David Hammons documentary The Melt Goes on Forever (2022), and the first person I thought should see it is Johnny,” Lawrence says. “When I see somebody who is really talented, smart and interesting, I want to do as much as I can to support that person.”

Johnny Floyd’s “Cerberus,” 2023. (Courtesy Johnny Floyd)

Curatorial Perspective

Christopher Blay, chief curator of HMAAC, similarly developed a deep connection to Floyd’s work at the same Conduit Gallery show. He views Floyd’s next-level oeuvre as transformative and forward-thinking.

“[Floyd’s] essential message is to imagine the depth of Black beauty without the burden of trauma,” Blay said. “His work imagines Blackness untethered from the burden of all the negative things associated with Blackness. In that way, it’s aspirational. It’s rooted in this disruptive act of considering all the vibrance and power of Blackness.”

In the Artist’s Own Words

A self-described space nerd inspired by James Baldwin, Mark Rothko, and artist Jammie Holmes, Floyd calls his work improvisational.

“I think the conversations I end up having with people tell me more about the work than I knew going into the conversation,” said Floyd. “A lot of the mirroring or multiple heads … it’s similar to cubism in the sense of presenting a figure or space from different perspectives all in kind of flattening the surface.”

“You see different perspectives all in one, and a lot of times the feeling I’m trying to express with the work is that multidimensionality of self — the fact that within myself, there are many different selves.”

Johnny Floyd’s “GODBODY” will be exhibited through Saturday, November 18 at the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC), 4807 Caroline Street. Learn more here. Floyd’s work will be featured at Conduit Gallery’s booth at the Dallas Art Fair, April 4-7, 2024. More info here.

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