Raheem Saladeen Johnson was born and raised in West Philadelphia, where his passion for the arts began even before the age of 5. As an inner city child, the arts and activities were few and far between. Basketball became another great love. He shined in the sport like no other. Unfortunately, an auto accident at 15 put basketball on the sidelines, but fortunately his little hiatus from the sport re-ignited his spark for drawing. Upon healing from the accident, he received a Division 1 scholarship for the NCAA, but within 2 years he realised the paintbrush was his true love and he was now ready to put down the basketball and go full speed ahead. Luckily his best friend, John ‘JP’ Thompson, who always knew his talent and worth, bought him his first set of professional art supplies. He encouraged him to focus solely on the arts and to make it his lifelong career. He took his friend’s advice and the rest was history. In 2011 he began his venture – the Saladeen Art Group. Sadly, a couple of years later, JP, the man who motivated him to push forward and do what he does best, passed away of brain cancer. KING SALADEEN will never forget the friend he was. Soon he began presenting art work in the world’s primary art capitals. KING SALADEEN graced Hollywood with his first solo show immediately followed by another show at Art Basel Miami. Famous for creating works with eye-popping big, bold colours and hidden messages – Saladeen pushes himself when it comes to his creativity. When asked about the large use of the red spectrum of colours in his work, he said, “In West Philly, I came from a place where people were ‘in the dark’ and and everything was bleak. I didn’t want to convey that in my art.” Most recently he held a three day show in Los Angeles with the Esoteric Collection and Gallery GO. Since then the unstoppable young artist has collaborated to paint works for legendary names such as Neiman Marcus, Footaction and even the king of basketball himself- Michael Jordan.
Where are you from and how did you begin painting?
I’m from West Philadelphia. As a kid I always loved art and sketched a lot of cartoon characters but it wasn’t until 2000 that I started painting on T-shirts.
Is paint your only medium?
I have no limits when it comes to art.
Why did you gravitate to art and when did you know you’d make a career out of it?
As a kid I always loved creating and it was the easiest way for me to express myself through it. When I dropped out of college, that’s when I realised I could use my creativity to support myself.
How do you usually begin working on a new piece?
It starts with some form of inspiration. It’s more of a feeling for me than a process. My inspiration comes from a place so deep within that the only way to express it is through my art.
What does the bear represent in your work?
The bear represents my vision at one of my lowest points because I created it when I was stressed about meeting the demands of work and life.
What people have been influential to you throughout your career?
My family, my best friend JP and countless others.
Tell me a bit about how your past and your childhood/adolescence brought you to where you are now…
Being from West Philly, I have seen a lot of crazy things at a young age and lost a lot of friends to the streets so I don’t take anything for granted. The rough times propelled me to to create art as an outlet, and through that art I’ve come out on top.
Why do you think you were able to overcome the adversities you faced in the past?
Because I’m blessed and I have incredible support from my family.
You recently exhibited some work in LA for Gallery GO and the Esoteric Collection, what was that experience like?
Unreal. Being able to partner with such an amazing gallery and organization was an amazing experience.
What’s integral to your workflow?
Music, great energy and apple juice.
What role does the artist have in society?
To speak through creativity and to help channel energy through art.
How has your art changed over time?
In so many ways, I just see getting myself getting better. I have learned to channel my life through art and my experiences
Where’s the craziest place you’ve ever created a piece of art?
I custom painted a $3.5 million dollar one of a kind Bugatti. That was crazy.
You recently collaborated with the iconic Neiman Marcus, what was that like?
Right before Art Basel in Miami I partnered with Neiman Marcus to create some one of a kind custom bags. It was a great experience because I love fashion. Being able to collaborate with Neiman Marcus was a dream come true.
What themes do you pursue when creating a new piece?
It honestly just depends on my mood, my mind can really go any direction.
We understand you roll with a pretty tight circle, what is your crew like? How do they support you?
We are are like the dream team – everyone in the crew understands the concept of a team which is why we all work so well together.
What is it about bright bold colours that you love so much?
Vibrant colours are connected with my feelings. Where I’m from there isn’t much colour. In West Philly, I came from a place where people were ‘in the dark’ and and everything was bleak. I didn’t want to convey that in my art.
What’s your favourite piece of work thus far?
Kind of a hard question but I will say the ‘Mastermind’.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
My best friend passing a way from cancer in 2013 was one of the hardest thing I experienced. It also made me go hard with my vision.
Who are some of the artists that inspired you while coming up in your career?
Basquiat and Britto.
Do you think you see the world from an artistic point of view?
Yes, I believe I see life from both ends of the spectrum.
What do you do when you’re not creating art?
I consider myself a businessman so If I’m not creating, I’m typically working on branding or networking.
Are you ever surprised to see where your pieces end up around the world?
Yes, but I prayed for this so nothing really surprises me anymore.
You’ve made quite a name for yourself in the art community, why do you think your art is so valuable to those who get to enjoy it?
I believe my art tells a true story. I never went to school for it so it’s raw talent for people that appreciate creativity.
In your opinion, how can we help encourage the arts to today’s youth?
I think we should encourage the young artist to share their creativity. Set positive examples.
What is your dream project?
Working with Michael Jordan on As for Js was one of my dream projects. I was able to share my story with students and be able to encourage them to go hard in life a way from the streets.
What’s next for King Saladeen? How can fans and collectors get in touch with you?
The sky is the limit!