Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Studio Visit: Jasper Johns

 Jasper Johns Is Smiling

Jasper Johns, contemporary American artist.  Jasper Johns was born in 1930 in Augusta, Georgia, and raised in South Carolina. He began drawing as a young child, and from the age of five knew he wanted to be an artist. He moved to New York in 1953. 

Jasper Johns liked to paint subjects "the eye already knows," everyday objects, like beer cans. BEER CANS?? Johns wants us to think about what art is, what we can call a painting or a sculpture. So he smiled, and made quiet little jokes, like beer cans.

Johns was probably smiling when he created his "Beer Cans" sculpture. Most people throw empty beer cans in the garbage, but Johns had two beer cans cast in bronze. And then he painted them to look EXACTLY like real beer cans. The "Beer Cans" sculpture was Johns's little joke, but it was a very beautiful little joke.

When Johns did this amazing bronze sculpture of his paint brushes soaking in an old Savarin coffee can, he was definitely smiling. Johns had the brushes and the Savarin can cast in bronze, and then painted them to look real. It was brilliant. This is one of Johns's most famous art works.

Johns liked to do drawings and prints of his paintings and sculpture. Here is his black and gray print of the Savarin sculpture. 

Johns began a series of flag paintings in 1954. This painting is titled "The White Flag." It is the largest of Johns's flag paintings,  78" x 120." It remained in Johns's own collection until the Metropolitan Museum bought it in 1998. 

In 1955, Johns painted this red, white and blue flag...  

Johns painted his flag paintings with "encaustic," color mixed with wax, like melted crayons. It's lovely to use, dries fast, doesn't smear, and the color can be painted over and over itself in many layers. He painted it over small bits of newspaper he had glued to the canvas. The paintings were fabulous. You could see a little bit of the newspaper showing through the color. It was a completely new way to use encaustic. Very "modern."

 Johns's flag paintings and drawings were exciting. His friend, the artist Robert Rauschenberg, invited the gallery owner, Leo Castelli, to visit Johns's studio to see his flag paintings. Castelli's often showed the work of new young artists in his gallery. Castelli was impressed with Johns's paintings and offered to give Johns a "one-man-show."

This is one of Johns's flag drawings. Castelli used it as the poster for Johns's exhibition at the gallery.

Next, Johns did a series of  paintings and drawings of "targets."

Here is one of Johns's extraordinary "target" drawings.

Then came Johns's paintings, and drawings of letters.

Here is Johns's elegant drawing of letters one over the other.

Johns did paintings and drawings and prints of the numbers 0 through 9.

Here is Johns's drawing of the numbers 0 through 9 drawn one over the other.

In 1966, Johns painted a series of maps of the United States.

Johns painted a series of "hatching" paintings. They remind me of "finger painting." prints.

He explored the idea of hatching in many paintings and drawings. They are some of his most beautiful, and serious, work.

Johns included his "Savarin Can" in this painting, many years later. Note the hand prints in the hatching.

Later in his career, Johns painted some more mysterious images, like this four-panel painting called "The Four Seasons."

In 2011, Johns's show at the Matthew Marks Gallery, returned back to his idea of numbers from 0 to 9, but he explored them in sculpture. 

Here is one of the numbers sculptures.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has called  Johns one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. See the link to Johns at the Metropolitan Museum, below.

Here are some Johns-inspired projects you can try at home.

Numbers: You can buy stencils for the numbers one through 9 in an art store (letter stencils too.) Do some paintings and drawings using numbers (and or letters). 
Letters: You can buy an alphabet of rubber stamps in a toy store. Buy an ink stamp pad. Or, you can use some paint. Do some prints using the letter stamps.
Maps: You can photocopy maps of the states of the US. Paint over them with tempera paint. Then, add the names of the states with stamps, on them.
Encaustic: You can iron a sheet of paper to heat it up. Draw on it with a crayon while it is still warm. It will melt the crayon a little. 
Grid: You can fold a paper into rectangles. Fill in each rectangle with color to create a colorful background grid. Draw or paint a number in each rectangle. Or, using colored paper, cut out letters or numbers, and glue them on the grid.

Here are some links to more information about the artist, Jasper Johns.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

At Gagosian gallery:

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