Motif The Target Naming of Colors The Device Imprint of the Body National Gallery of Art
Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955–1965
Imprint of the Body

Several large, spare works might be said to establish far-reaching potential for the self-imposed constraints of Johns’ processes and techniques. The drawing Diver (begun before the painting Diver but finished later) is large enough to contain the full extension of both arms, which are represented as devices that sweep through the shallow field of charcoal and pastel. Diver contains imprints of the artist’s hands (in the center and bottom) and feet (at the top center) as well as directional arrows; it is the diagrammatic representation of movements of the body, presumably during the act of diving, but ultimately through pictorial space and time. As an image, it distantly invokes the Crucifixion, the archetypal Western image of the constrained body.

In Diver the entire body—represented in its physical extension by the four extremities—is made present through the imprint, the flat, factual trace of the now-absent artist; the body is fixed on and within the two-dimensional plane through its character as an immanent absence. The hands and feet, impressed on the support, are reversible: they could be construed as facing out from within pictorial space. An equivalency between Diver and Periscope (Hart Crane) is established in photographs of the artist working virtually simultaneously (and with similar gestures) on both works, positioned side by side against the studio wall. That the mark-making may be quasi-performative, given the presence of the camera, only heightens the mechanical nature of the process. Yet the finished drawing—scaled to the extension of the artist's reach—takes us well beyond the material conditions of process alone.

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