3. Jasper Johns: major paintings

Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

from The Mind and the Mirror:

exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2021/22

 

 

 

Jasper Johns is widely considered the foremost living North American artist. 

 

A large retrospective planned for his 90th birthday by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art was delayed by Covid-19 and has just closed.

 

The works below were on display in 2021 and 2022 at one museum or the other.

 

 

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Johns uses several materials;

A master print maker, he has worked with oil, acrylic, encaustic and ink on canvas, paper, and plastic.

He uses collage of fabric and newspaper;  and incorporates manufactured objects in his work.

 

Carved wood appears in his work; cast wax and cast metal.

 

Among the artist’s motifs are:

flags, targets, maps, numbers, cross-hatching; stick figures; skeletal figures; a jug whose handles form the outlines of the profiles of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband;

 

a ladder; coloured dots or blocks like the colour guide on the edge of a sample of printed fabric;

 

 

 

5 Postcards, 2011; either encaustic on canvas or oil on canvas or oil and graphite on canvas.

Jasper Johns, American born 1930.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

 

 

One of the 5 Postcards, 2011

 

 

 

 cutlery; a metal hanger;

 

 

 

Fragment – According to What: Hinged Canvas, 1971, lithograph (related to the work below)

Jasper Johns, American born 1930, Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

 

letters and stenciled writing; paving stones; a cloth hanging from a nail;

 

 

 

 

Perilous Night, 1982, encaustic and silkscreen on canvas with objects. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC loan to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

the faucets and spout of a vintage bath;

 

 

 

The Bath, encaustic on canvas, 1988

Loaned by the Kunstmuseum, Basel to a retrospective in 2021/22 of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

Above the bathtub is a fragmented copy of a Pablo Picasso painting of 1936 of his lover, Marie Therese Walter.  Above this is the faint tracing of a demon from the 16th century Isenheim altarpiece (Mathias Grunewald).

 

 

 

string; chairs; human body parts;

 

 

 

Watchman, 1964, oil on canvas with objects. 

Loaned by The Broad, Los Angeles to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

Curatorial comment was that this was painted while the artist was visiting Japan.  His sketchbooks note the difference between the watchman – always looking – and the spy whose goal is to be overlooked and to learn how to remember what he saw.

 

The Broad’s take is that this painting speaks to the essential Johns: 

 “Overall, Watchman is a painting that is trying to be more than a painting; it is caught in the very moment when the world of thought and representation (of symbols and signs) is transitioning into the world of action and physical expression.”

 

 

 

Motifs also include circular disks sometimes with one of the two hands of a clock.

 

 

 

Device, 1961-62, oil on canvas with objects. 

Dallas Museum of Art loan to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

A young man, sometimes a boy, appears in many of Johns’ works. 

 

 

 

The artist rarely discusses his work.

 

A close student of Paul Cézanne , the Cubists and of Marcel Duchamp, Johns denies that his motifs have any intrinsic meaning. His interest has been to question what it is that defines a work of art.

 

 

 

Jasper Johns has executed a number of works in washes of gray which some have interpreted as washes of grief

 

 

 

The importance of his work and that of his sometime close collaborator, Robert Rauschenberg, is to have expanded the means, motifs, and intent  of artistic expression.

 

 

Jasper Johns expanded the field of play by exploring the working of his mind. 

 

The source of Robert Rauschenberg’s expansion remained always the diverse world.

Rauschenberg said: “I think a painting is more like the real world if it is made out of the real world.”

 

Therein a difference which tends to distance some of us from the work of Jasper Johns’ as it tends to endear the work of Robert Rauschenberg to us.

 

Johns asks us to follow him into his mind and to trust that what interests him about the mechanics of perception and sense-making makes sense to us and is important to us.

 

Rauschenberg multiplied his creative interactions with the world in which he sought a humane, positive role for artists.

 

 

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Diver, 1962-63, charcoal, pastel, and paint on two sheets of paper mounted on two adjoined canvas supports. 

MOMA, NY loan to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

 

 

Field Painting, 1963-64, oil on canvas, with objects.

Private collection loan to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

Studio, 1964, oil on panel with objects. two panels.

Whitney Museum of North American Art.  Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

 

According to What, 1964, oil, charcoal and graphite on canvas, with objects.

Private collection loan to a retrospective in 2021/22 of the work of Jasper John, American born 1930.

 

Curatorial comment on this large work is that it is

“…filled with subtle references, puns, and propositions about the relationship of a work’s to the world.  Varied and contradictory modes of language and art-making abut one another, such as printing, found and cast objects, and abstract brushwork….

“The process of perceiving, interpreting and differentiating these systems and elements is, in part, the meaning of the work…”

 

 

 

 

Decoy, 1971, oil on canvas with object

Private collection loan to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1972, oil, encaustic and collage on canvas with objects.

Loan from the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

 

Racing Thoughts, 1983, encaustic and collage on canvas.

Whitney Museum of (North) American Art, NY.  Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

The Seasons

 

 

Spring, 1986, encaustic on canvas.

Private collection loan by MOMA, NY. to the 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930.

 

 

 

Fall, encaustic on canvas, 1986. 

Collection of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

A visitor looking at two paintings in The Seasons during the 2021/22 Jasper Johns retrospective

 

 

 

 

Winter, 1986, encaustic on canvas. 

Private collection loan to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

 

 

Summer, 1985, encaustic on canvas.

Private collection loan to a 2021/22 retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

 

In 2018, the FBI returned to Johns work which had been stolen from his studio over many years by a long-time assistant.  One of them was connected to The Seasons, completed in the mid-1980’s. 

 

Johns inserted a skeleton originally traced from his own shadow.  He continued after that to represent skeletons.

 

 

 

Untitled, 2018, oil on canvas. 

Private collection loan to a retrospective in 2021/22 of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

 

 

 

Caternary (I Call to the Grave), encaustic on canvas with wood and string, 1998

Jasper Johns, American born 1930, Philadelphia Art Museum

 

This is one of the artist’s Caternary paintings.  The name comes from the curve of the string which hangs from two fixed points. 

 

The title comes from the book of Job.  Job, facing intense suffering, says: I call to the grave. 

These words are stencilled at the bottom of the painting along with the artist’s signature.

 

 

 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Johns linked a drawing of a cross-section of a knee after one made by a student, Jean Marc Togodgue, which he saw at his orthopedist’s office with a representation he made of a map of nearby galaxies – a ‘slice of the Universe’ .

 

This relates to a map sent to him by the astrophysicist, Margaret Geller, who admires the artist’s work. 

 

Johns uses a knot pattern found in Leonardo da Vinci’s work  to draw the elements of this image together.

 

 

 

Slice, 2020, oil on canvas.

Private collection loan to a retrospective in 2021/22 of the work of Jasper Johns, American born 1930

 

This image, created when the artist was 90, is the only one which I saw in the 500 works in this retrospective

which implies that our minds are not the sole arbiters of our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “3. Jasper Johns: major paintings

  1. Your research and commentary are impressive, and helpful. I liked “Winter” but most of the other paintings, despite helpful notes, conveyed very little to hold my gaze!?!

  2. Susannah, thanks for looking!

    Many abstract painters revere Jasper Johns. I spoke to one young man and he said that Johns’ work is everything to him.

    I understand that his technique is very expert. He has been at it for 65 years, But what I do not like is that all this is connected to a nihilistic philosophy: he denies that the objects he paints have any meaning.

    I think the real deal is this: he achieved success young: at 30. He began to sell. The critics began to theorize – he won’t say a thing – and over time it does not suit any of the galleries and art museums and collectors to revise the wonderful reputation he has.

    A exercise which would, in any case, be difficult because the techniques he uses are very expert.

    To us the hoi polloi, his reputation is mysterious and the fact that the last of his flag paintings to sell sold for $32 million is just as mysterious!

    Sarah

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