Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955–1965

Johns’ 1st Etchings, 2nd State, a portfolio of thirteen prints an original work of art produced in multiple identical impressions made by transferring ink from a matrix onto paper, usually using a printing press specific to the process. that was published by Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in 1969, includes a title page and two versions each of six motifs: Ale Cans, Flag, Flashlight, Light Bulb, Paint Brushes, and 0 through 9, a configuration of superimposed numerals. Employing drawing and photographic processes, 1st Etchings, 2nd State adds to Johns’ meditation on the interactions of representation and abstraction. By 1969 he had established his practice of repeatedly examining—in paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints—these and other "found" objects that he has referred to as "things the mind already knows." Although carefully rendered, his objects make no attempt to fool the eye.

The works seen here are divided into three sections and highlight Johns’ reexamination of motifs through his variation of composition, material, and technique. The first section includes early images of four of the portfolio motifs; the second section exhibits prints and proofs for 1st Etchings, 2nd State; and the final section displays works postdating the portfolio that incorporate its imagery.

Further highlighting the role of theme and variation in Johns’ prints are annotated working, a proof with hand-drawn or painted additions. state, a stage during the development of an image, documented by a proof. and color trial proofs a proof in which color varies from the edition. selected from the National Gallery’s recent and ongoing acquisition of the artists’ personal collection of proofs for his print editions. Including examples of the various print processes Johns uses, such as lithographya printing method in which a grease drawing on Bavarian limestone or a special metal plate is fixed with dilute nitric acid and gum arabic. To print, the surface is dampened with water, which is repelled by the grease drawing. The surface is then rolled with ink, which adheres only to the drawn marks, which are then transferred., etching,processes in which an image is made by the corrosive action of acid on a metal plate, traditionally copper. and screenprint, a stencil process in which the image is applied to a screen. Ink is then forced onto paper through the mesh areas not covered by the stencil. these proofs differ from the editions in both subtle and substantial ways. Sumptuous working proofs with hand-drawn additions reveal Johns’ conceptual and technical process, while color trial proofs show alternatives to the editions that are equally coherent and "finished."

Many printing processes, including lithography and etching, reverse the drawn image. This indirectness of printmaking, as well as its capacity to generate multiple variant examples of an image, is sympathetic to Johns’ urge to revisit and manipulate iconography, materials, and processes in new and highly original combinations. He takes full advantage of the inherent potential of printmaking techniques to reverse and duplicate images, printing from his matrices the surface that carries an image to be printed. Printmaking techniques are defined by the matrix used and the manner in which it carries ink. Multicolor prints usually require multiple matrices. in radically differing ways. Often setting his matrices aside after an edition is completed, sometimes for years, Johns then later reworks them for use in a new edition. He makes changes in the medium, in the quantity and character of drawn marks, and in the selection of surfaces to print. He also makes deliberate choices in regard to ink and paper and in the degree and placement of hand and press pressure during inking and printing respectively. With each variation, Johns presents a new set of circumstances to be acknowledged and accounted for.

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