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

Jasper Johns produced three unusually large, multi-panel paintings in which the target, the stenciled naming of colors, the “device,” and the imprint of the body appear together. Both Diver and According to What are such compendia of motifs. (In addition to the four motifs, entire compositions from other, smaller paintings have been incorporated, among them Arrive/Depart and Slow Field as well as Field Painting and Watchman—all included in this exhibition.) The long horizontal format of these paintings is virtually unique for the artist during this period, and in their scale and ambition, these large works make clear that Johns conceived the motifs as elements in a single narrative.

Such a narrative was never explicitly articulated by Johns; rather, it emerges from his visual cues, which reveal an internal logic at work. From these means Johns finally wrests a new form of figuration—one that merges the actual body, the plane of the support (paper or canvas), and the density of the medium (paint, wax, and collage, for example). The figure, itself reduced to an imprint or trace, now occupies the physical and material dimensions of the work. As the body is fragmented and flattened, the work, in turn, is embodied—endowed with real weight. Ultimately, this reveals the artist's technical process to be capable of unexpected expressive power.

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