Jasper Johns (Augusta, USA, 1930), is an emblem of American painting in the second half of the twentieth century and one of the artists of his generation who focused more on printmaking. During the quarter century that is reflected in this exhibition, Johns dedicates himself to various printmaking techniques through which he reproduced many of the motifs and compositions that appeared simultaneously in his painting. Maps, American flags, paint cans or targets are some of the recurring themes that have become part of the iconography of the late twentieth century.
In the Sixties there were few printers who specialised in artistic work and the artists who used it did not often know how the technique worked. With the help of print publisher Tatyana Grosman, between 1960 and 1962 Johns began working with Robert Blackburn, a renowned printmaker who collaborated with artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Grace Hartigan. Johns’ first work was a lithograph representing the number zero. During the following three years the artist created a series of numbers drawn on the same stone which evidence his quick mastery of the discipline. This led him to increase the scale and complexity of his compositions, and to employ various different colours.
In 1964 Johns produces his most famous print, Ale Cans, two cans of beer that had been represented in his Painted Bronze (1960) sculpture. For this artist, different disciplines work around a common goal: they are different ways of seeing the object. To painting, sculpture and printing Johns adds photography, a way to insert three-dimensional shapes into the lithographs and etchings. Thus, from Passage (1966) onwards photographic elements systematically and exclusively become part of his prints.
In this exhibition key pieces are displayed, such as Johns’ first etchings entitled First Etchings, which are essential in his graphic production. Along with Decoy (1971) they are works which are conceived to be produced only with printing procedures and in which the artist works for the first time with a new technique.
After reaching an undisputed level of mastery with Scent (1975-76) -one of Johns’ most recognised productions- and embarking on the creation of the first monotypes in 1978, until the mid-eighties, he dabbles with various different techniques. During this period we see that the artist favours repeating an image with different techniques, as this way of creating allows him to address the similarities and differences that appear in the final result. This exhibition shows that Johns finds in printmaking, because of its intrinsic qualities, the best way to experiment and research in order to explore the limits of his work.
Museum of Modern Art, New York (May 20 - August 19,1986)