Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jasper Johns at the Katonah Museum of Art


A new exhibition is coming to the Katonah Museum of Art: Jasper Johns and John Lund: Masters in the Print Studio.  This exhibition will be the first museum exhibit to delve deeply into the professional artistic relationship between Jasper Johns and John Lund, the master printer who is Johns' exclusive printer.  It promises to be a fascinating exhibition and I hope all of you who are in the area will take the time to come and see it.

With KMA intern Shin Yeon Moon, I co-wrote an overview of Jasper Johns that was distributed to docents and will be sent to teachers in their prep packets.  Here's what we've written; I hope it whets your appetite to see the exhibit.  Jasper Johns and John Lund: Masters in the Print Studio will be on display March 22 -  June 15, 2014.

Jasper Johns:
A Lifelong Investigation of Form, Space, and Process

Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930.  He grew up with no formal art lessons, but always had the dream of becoming an artist.  In 1949, at the age of twenty-four, Johns decided to move to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design.

In 1954, the Leo Castelli gallery discovered Johns and offered him his first solo show.  This breakthrough work occurred in the early 1950's with his "Flag " painting series (1954-1955), solidifying his position as a major American Artist.

Johns utilized recognizable, representational subjects in his early work such as flags, targets, and numbers.  The popular artistic style of the time was that of the Abstract Expressionists, who attempted to depict emotions, ideas, or a story through the exploration of shapes, colors, and physical movements.  Although many viewers have been inclined to categorize Johns as a Pop artist, Johns himself has denied that he ever was.  Being ahead of his time, he was simply interested in expressing forms and symbols without any referential background.  Since the images he used were instantly recognizable designs and not something he had to create, they were the perfect platforms for other explorations, such as brushstrokes and the spatial limits of the canvas.  He says, "They are just the forms that interest me and which I have chosen to limit and describe space."

In 1960,  Johns began to work with prints and explored a variety of techniques that utilized his existing imagery.  By recycling his imagery through reversing, repeating, layering, resizing, re-coloring, and transferring his older pieces back into his newer work, we find unique variations on past works that gain prominence in a new piece.  In the mid-1960s to the early 1970s Johns explored various techniques and uses of materials to produce larger works.  By 1974, he was experimenting with a "cross-hatch" pattern, which became one of his signature forms of expression.  In the early 1980s Johns began to incorporate more autobiographical content (such as his childhood photos) as well as elements of inspiration from Pablo Picasso's work.

When considering the evolution of Johns' work, it is critical to keep in mind that Johns has always been interested in form and how those shapes appear in space, whether painted on a canvas, printed on paper, or sculpted.  Printmaking offered challenges and opportunities for expressing forms and lines.  He says, "In them [prints] I'm able to use images and ideas I work over in painting and subject them to transformation.  It's a different physique entirely."

Johns has always appropriated themes and ideas from his own past artworks, transforming them into entirely new art.  Reading meaning into those resurrected images can be a mistake: "It has basically nothing to do with the subject itself, but with the work process, the way you will work, the direction you will take.  Sometimes all of this becomes clearer for me if I choose a subject I feel very comfortable with: then I feel free to concentrate on the work process, the print technique, the material or whatever the case may be." Once Johns finds a form he wants to explore, he manipulates the image in as many ways as interest and excite him.

Form, space, and process: these are the elements that have captured Jasper Johns' imagination.  His work as an artist has evolved in so far as the subjects of his explorations have changed, but he has remained consistent in how he manifests his curiosity throughout his career.

Be sure to go to the Museum website to get all the details about the exhibition and other fabulous opportunities such as a trip to ULAE, the printmaking studio where John Lund first met Jasper Johns.  

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