The Chi S4 Preview: Q&A With Artist Nikko Washington

On May 23, Season 4 of The Chi debuts on Showtime, featuring a fresh show package by Trollbäck+Company. To preview the debut, we recently sat down (digitally) with Chicago-based artist Nikko Washington, whose work forms the foundation of the series’ vibrant new identity.

For those just catching up on the critically-acclaimed ensemble drama, The Chi is a show about life and community on the South Side of Chicago. This new season, according to Emmy-award-winning creator Lena Waithe will be “all about love” but also “about protests, finding your voice, and knowing how to use it” – with a new focus on the storylines of three young boys following an incident of police brutality. 

Early on in the process of developing a show package for Showtime to meet the themes and messages in the upcoming season, we commissioned Washington, a painter, designer, and illustrator who calls the show’s eponymous city home. Get to know him below:

Trollbäck+Company: What got you started as an artist? How would you describe your practice?

Nikko Washington: I always knew I was going to be an artist. I took up painting seriously when I was 19. I remember my uncle asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to be a contemporary artist. Then he replied “Do you know what that means and what it takes?” This stuck with me because I didn’t have an answer at the time. I thought I just had to work hard, but what he told me was super important. He told me to do my research. He asked who my favorite painters were, and at the time most of them were all white men – the artists they taught me to study in school. He gave me a book of Black artists such as Robert Colescott, Jacob Lawrence, Sam Gilliam, Emory Douglas, etc. and it truly changed the trajectory of my work.

My work now is a culmination of abstract art and text in direct response to questions on police brutality and gentrification; two themes that are heavily prevalent across all bodies of his work and narratives he and his loved ones have experienced first hand. My past works include portraits of Black culture, leaders and martyrdom.

T+Co: How does the city of Chicago influence your work as an artist?

NW: Chicago has definitely influenced my work. I grew up a block from a wall where a lot of crews would paint freely. From an early age I was introduced to vibrant colors, and color theory from graffiti. That’s something I see a lot of in my work. Chicago just has this energy and style that is so unique. The feeling is nothing like other cities.

T+Co: What was the process like working with Trollbäck?

NW: The process was great honestly. Trollbäck was very respectful of my creative process and decisions. That means a lot to me.

T+Co: As a designer/artist, how do you incorporate elements of both disciplines into your work?

This was a challenge for me at the beginning of my art making career. I used to treat art and design as complete opposites. But as I made more work I realized my inclusion of typography is what bridges the two worlds.

T+Co: How has your work process changed over the past year? 

My process has slowed down more. The pandemic has given me the opportunity to really sit with and meditate with my work and the direction I want it to go in. 

To learn more about Nikko’s work and practice, head to his website or follow him on Twitter or Instagram. You can also catch The Chi’s Season 4 trailer below: