One assumes that one’s relationship to the work is the correct or only possible one. But with a slight re-emphasis of elements, one finds that one can behave very differently toward it, see it in a different way. I tend to focus upon relationship between oneself and a thing that is flexible, that can be one thing at one time and something else at another time. I find it interesting, although it may not be very reassuring
– Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns’ retrospective has finally opened. Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror is the largest survey of the of artist’s works, so large that it is being held in two major museums: the Whitney in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
One of America’s most beloved artists, whose work affected every artistic movement from the 1950s to the present day, the retrospective was planned for last year, to celebrate Johns’ 90th birthday. The pandemic came along and the retrospective was postponed. Johns turned 91 on May 15th.
His story is a remarkable one. Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930. After his parents divorced, he lived with his grandparents, then an aunt. He began to draw at a young age, hoped to become an artist, although he wasn’t sure what that meant and hadn’t been exposed to much art.
After moving to New York in 1948, Johns studied briefly at the Parsons School of design, left school and was drafted in 1951. He spent two years in the army during the Korean War, part of the time in Sendai, Japan.
The art of Japan had a profound influence on Johns. He began printmaking early in his career. Some of his greatest works are the prints he made with artists in Tokyo. He used patterns of parallel lines called Usuyuki or light snow, the name of an 18th-century Kabuki play that Johns has described as being about “the fleeting quality of beauty in the world.”
Johns, who repeated patterns throughout his career, used the Usuyuki pattern in many of his works, like Cicada, available at Surovek Gallery.
Jasper Johns’ use of familiar objects, like flags and targets, created both abstract and representational images on the same picture plane. He didn’t want to imbue his work with specific meaning, but to let the viewer have his or her own experience with each work.
Johns is a quiet, unassuming artist, who has always been reluctant to talk about, or explain, his work. When asked about the current show, which runs at both museums through February 13, 2022, Johns said, “I don’t want to be quoted. These are not my ideas. The show is not my idea.”
Holland Cotter. Jasper Johns: Divide and Conquer. The New York Times. September 23, 2021.
Deborah Solomon. Seeing Double With Jasper Johns. The New York Times. September 25, 2021.
Geoff Edgers. How did this teenager’s drawing of his knee wind up in a Jasper Johns painting at the Whitney? The Washington Post. September 28, 2021.
Peter Schjeldahl. Jasper Johns Remains Contemporary Art’s Philosopher King. The New Yorker. October 4, 2021.