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

Although dispersed throughout False Start and Jubilee, the stenciled color names are given greater prominence in a group of other works, including Out the Window and By the Sea, that are divided into three or four horizontal bands. Each band is emblazoned with one word. But the jagged brushwork and the closeness in value among the paint colors used contribute to a merging of figure and ground, thereby compromising the mechanical clarity of the stencil and undermining the legibility of the words. Out the Window employs the high-key palette of False Start, but its configuration of passages and strokes is fragmented into smaller shards. The color names RED, YELLOW, and BLUE—one for each band—are subsumed by the activity of the brush.

There is a certain resemblance here to the fractured, multidirectional, allover chiaroscuro of high analytic cubist paintings by Braque and Picasso, the shallow space flickering throughout with scattered passages of light and dark. It also brings to mind the role of the stenciled or typographical word in cubism around 1911–1912, where the flatness of the word as sign, optically bound to the surface of the canvas, throws pictorial space into low relief. The difference is that Johns paints the letters of the words as objects, causing some of them to advance or recede.

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