Jasper Johns Riffs on His Riff on Abstract Expressionism

THE DAILY PIC: At Matthew Marks, Johns crafts a messy picture of a tidy picture of mess.

THE DAILY PIC (#1742): Jasper Johns made this gorgeous print in 1978, and it is now in a group show at one of the Matthew Marks spaces in New York. It is a riff on Johns’s 1960 rendering of a coffee can full of oil-slathered brushes, executed in trompe-l’oeil painted bronze.

The original piece was partly a joke about the mess left behind by the classic soul-searching artist, at that moment represented by Abstract Expressionism’s masters of mess. And part of the joke was that Johns’s depiction of their chaos actually demanded the greatest, un-messy care in modeling, casting, and painting his bronze.

Eighteen years later, when he depicted his sculpture in 2D, he made his image fully echo the look of AbEx. And he did it in the medium of monoprint, which basically involves squishing a bunch of paint up against a sheet of paper. Each monoprint is thus a unique record of an individual moment in time, never to come again. Which is just what the AbEx-ers were all about.

But where their messes were supposed to express the immediate states of their souls, Johns’s derives from a derivation from one specific thing in the world, and it is made by almost mechanical means. “Soul” got replaced by “wit” – maybe even by wisdom. (©Jasper Johns, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery)

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