Almost from the beginning, Johns subverted the function of the target by abandoning the high contrast between yellow and blue bands and creating instead monochromatic Target images. In paintings such as White Target of 1957 or Gray Target and Green Target both of 1958, the use of a single color renders the motif of the target almost invisible, even as its application—using paint with encaustic and collage—thickens, adding to our impression of the painting as a heavy slab. Defined now through the topography of the concentric bands alone, the target is transformed from an instrument of seeing into an allover surface that solicits sensation primarily through touch.
Painting here becomes a physical operation, as if the methodical depositing of a medium in short strokes on canvas were an end in itself rather than a means for creating pictorial illusion or invoking states of mind. Heightening this quality of his technique during the middle to late 1950s, Johns began to build up the surfaces of his paintings with collage—many small fragments of newsprint and other papers pasted down during the production (one might almost say the construction) of the painting. Further, the paint was often mixed with encaustic, a waxlike medium that stiffens the paint such that the autonomous identity of each brushstroke is preserved. Collage and encaustic also serve to emphasize the object-quality of the painted canvas—its role, for Johns, not just as a support for a medium but also as a material thing.