Jasper Johns (American, b. Augusta, Georgia 1930)
Signed and dated in graphite, lower right: J. Johns '60
Graphite wash on heavy, off-white wove paper
Image: 13 9/16 x 13 7/8 in. (34.6 x 35.2 cm)
Sheet: 18 9/16 x 18 5/16 in. (47.2 x 46.5 cm)
Ruth C. Roush Fund for Contemporary Art, 1968
Since the mid 1950s, Jasper Johns' work has continually presented and recast items in the common culture--the American flag, a target, a lightbulb, stenciled numerals--in various media. The target (along with the flag) is the motif most closely associated with the artist, who has revisited the image in well over fifty paintings, drawings, and prints.1
The Oberlin drawing is closely related to Black Target of 1959, a mixed-media painting with nearly the same distribution of black, white, and grey, and many similarly shaped brushmarks and drips.2 The sheet dates from the same year that Johns began to make prints, and presents some of the mechanical processes and graphic techniques he had just learned in the print studio: drawing on transparent sheets to transfer a design from one surface to another, pressing pigment through a screen to transfer incidents of color, and manipulating graphite wash almost as if it were a lithographic tusche.3
Materials and procedures are always matter-of-factly visible in Johns's work, and this sheet presents the purposeful accumulation of marks and tones that the paper has absorbed from the medium's black-to-white, viscous-to-fluid spectrum. As in most of Johns's target images, the drawing works against the target as a hierarchical configuration of concentric circles that culminate in a single point at dead center. The viewer is compelled to scrutinize the target as a complex field of positioned tonalities and textures. The result is less an "image of" a target than an insistently material object, a particular target that has been drawn and configured by the contrast, merging, and gradation of half-transparent, half-opaque deposits of black, white, and grey pigment.
The museum also owns an impression of a target screenprint of 1973 that resumes the basic tonal and factural configuration of the present drawing.4
Work (C) 1998 Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1930, and attended art school for such a brief time that he is generally considered a self-taught artist. In 1954 Johns painted his first American flag, the first in a series of iconic and impersonal paintings that also included alphabets and targets. He soon began to incorporate cast reliefs in his works and to make sculptures; and in 1960 he began his involvement with printmaking, often reworking the imagery of his paintings. Throughout the late 1950s and ‘60s, Johns was closely associated with Robert Rauschenberg, who had a studio in the same building in New York. He also occasionally collaborated with composer John Cage and dancer Merce Cunningham, and was strongly influenced by the writings of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. In the early '70s, Johns created a series of paintings composed of short, straight brushstrokes arranged in schematic patterns of cross-hatching (Untitled, 1972; Cologne, Museum Ludwig). In the early '80s, Johns began to incorporate personal references in his work (Racing Thoughts, 1983; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art). As his work became more personalized, Johns became less identified with other artists or movements such as Pop Art or Minimalism and his work was seen as more self-referential.
Steinberg, Leo. Jasper Johns. New York, 1963.
Rosenthal, Nan, and Ruth E. Fine, with Marla Prather and Amy Mizrahi Zorn. The Drawings of Jasper Johns. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990.
Crichton, Michael. In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol. 17. London and New York, 1996, pp. 613-15.
Kirk Varnedoe et al. Jasper Johns: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, 1996.
With Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (to 1968)
Sale New York (Parke-Bernet), 15 May 1968, lot 104, where purchased
Oxford, Museum of Modern Art, 1974-75. Jasper Johns Drawings. 7 September - 13 October (also shown at Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery; Coventry, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; Leeds City Art Gallery; and London, Serpentine Gallery). Cat. no. 29.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1980. From Reinhardt to Christo: Works Acquired through the Benefaction of the Late Ruth C. Roush. 20 February - 19 March. Cat. no. 50.
Arts Council of Great Britain. Jasper Johns: Drawings. Exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1974, p. 61, no. 29.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolors in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1976, pp. 41-42, fig. 266.
Olander, William. "Introduction to the Exhibition." In From Reinhardt to Christo: Works Acquired through the Benefaction of the Late Ruth C. Roush. Exh. cat., Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, 1980, pp. 10, 19.
Shapiro, David. Jasper Johns: Drawings 1954-1984. New York, 1985, pl. 44.
The sheet is heavy, off-white "card stock" paper with slight tooth; this texture is similar on recto and verso.
The circles of the target were drawn in faint graphite lines; the square border is indicated in faint graphite marks. The graphite wash ranges from light to heavy thickness in both medium and application. The brushstrokes are mingled with smudges and perhaps fingerprints. Soaked into the fibers near the bottom of the sheet are remnants of dripped pigment that the artist had wiped away, indicating the deliberate character of the drip configurations along with the other marks.
The drawing is in good, stable condition and has not been treated since entering the museum collection. There are yellow stains in the margins and slight, overall discoloring in the image area. The verso shows no medium-induced discoloration, but is marked overall with graphite-medium transfer.
1. Charles W. Haxthausen, "Translation and Transformation in Target with Four Faces: The Painting, the Drawing, and the Etching," in Jasper Johns: Printed Symbols (exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1990), p. 66. Haxthausen's article offers an interesting account of Johns's translations of one of his earliest target works - Target with Four Faces (1955; encaustic and collage on canvas with objects in wooden box, 85.4 x 66 x 7.6 cm, New York, The Museum of Modern Art)--in drawing and etching.
2. Encaustic and collage on canvas, 137.2 x 137.2 cm, formerly collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller, destroyed by fire in 1961. Reproduced in Leo Steinberg, Jasper Johns (New York, 1963), p. 17, no. 8. It has yet to be determined if the configurations of tone and facture in the Oberlin drawing first appeared in Black Target of 1959, or in a target painting of an earlier date. Most of Johns's drawings and prints recast ideas first presented in painting. See Nan Rosenthal and Ruth E. Fine, "Interview with Jasper Johns," in The Drawings of Jasper Johns (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990), p. 72. This catalogue and the monograph by David Shapiro, Jasper Johns: Drawings 1954-1984 (New York, 1985), are the best references for Johns's drawings. Both reproduce several target drawings in different media.
3. Ruth E. Fine, "Making Marks," in Nan Rosenthal and Ruth E. Fine, The Drawings of Jasper Johns (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990), p. 50.
4. Target (from the portfolio For Meyer Shapiro), 1973; screenprint, design: 30.5 x 30.5 cm, sheet: 61 x 42 cm, AMAM inv. 76.97.6.