Tuesday, September 15, 2009

J: Jasper Johns

If you have never seen a sculpture or painting by Jasper Johns in person, you may have a tough time understanding the importance of his work. To view his art in the context of the Photoshop age and to judge it based on a 3” x 5” plate in an art book (or worse yet, a jpg on a webpage) would leave you wanting.

Take a trip to MoMA. That’s something that any artist or lover of art needs to do for its own reward.

When you have the ability to see a room full of Jasper Johns work—and then compare it to the original works of Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol—perhaps you can make some observations and judgments about the impact of his work.

I recently caught a video of the American Masters Series on Jasper Johns where he discussed his process and some of his most famous works. In particular he talked about creating the Balentine Beer Can sculpture and his Brushes in the Coffee Can bronze.

“There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists.” This quote by Johns is amazingly thought provoking. I am challenged by the inspiration for painting and the subject. When I attempt to paint abstractly, I struggle with putting my “ego” aside and allowing the image to come forth from within.

Perhaps further review of Johns work might inspire a direction. In particular, the work False Start comes to mind. I understand that at one time this was sold for $80 million dollars, making it the most expensive work sold by a living artist (at the time of sale). The balance of light and color and the use of text in the painting intrigues me. The strokes are bold, yet controlled.

Another work, Figure 8, also speaks to me. When I played lacrosse in college, my number was 8. I was a goalie at the time and I remember my coach thinking it was funny to put two big round targets in the middle of my shirt. My college coach was, next to my Dad, one of the most influential people in my life. So I keep that memory and joke near and dear to me. The curves of the number are so well crafted and formed by so many different lines and colors. It maintains the purity of the typography, while being as loose and abstract as possible. Your mind completes the work making it a very interactive painting.

An aside: I almost used the word “piece” here. I try to never use that word when describing a work of art. I think it is a trivialization of the effort and expense in personal terms required to make artistic expressions. I guess that goes back to hearing it used so often by marketing or sales people to universally puff up anything they are trying to sell. “This is a fabulous piece” or “This is a significant piece in the collection.” I don’t create or study just a portion (piece) of art. Usually I like to consider—or have considered—the whole work.

Suffice it to say that a virtual trip through the jpgs of Jasper Johns can provide great inspiration, but nothing compared to a walk through of the actual thing.

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