One of the most celebrated artists of the modern era, Jasper Johns (b. 1930) transformed the field of printmaking. For over 50 years, he has tested the mediums boundaries, reinventing subjects like targets, American flags, and images from art history in endless variation. The first exhibition of his work at The Phillips Collection
features prints from each decade, with groundbreaking examples of lithography, intaglio, silkscreen, and lead relief. Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme is on view June 2 through Sept. 9, 2012.
The exhibition spans Johnss entire printmaking career, beginning with his first experiments and culminating in 2011. In 1960, Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) founding director Tatyana Grosman encouraged Johns to work on lithographic stones, and he completed five prints and began his celebrated 09 series. Inspired, Johns saw printmaking as a way to transform ideas he had already developed in painting, drawing, and sculpture.
Johns mines art history, including his own work, to repeat and vary motifs. FragmentsAccording to What (1971), for example, excavates six details from his 1964 painting, According to What. The exhibition brings together all six prints from this important series. In 1976, Johns partnered with writer Samuel Beckett to create Foirades/Fizzles on view in the exhibition. The book includes 33 etchings, which revisit an earlier work by Johns and five text fragments by Beckett.
Jasper Johnss persistent experimentation not only transformed printmaking but set the standard for contemporary art, says Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski. A champion of visionary American artists since 1921, the Phillips is proud to present over five decades of Johnss graphic achievements, including our own The Critic Sees (1967). We are deeply grateful to the John and Maxine Belger Foundation whose collaboration makes a project on this scale possible.
Opening with early prints like Target (1960), the exhibition unfolds to reveal the artists evolving interests. At the end of the 1960s, he experiments with etching in 1st Etchings Portfolio (1968). In the 1970s, an abstract aesthetic emerges with a crosshatch motif in works like Corpse and Mirror (1976). In the 1980s, autobiographical elements enter Johnss work such as a tracing of the artists shadow in The Seasons (1987). In the 1990s, images from art history appear in After Holbein (199394) and Green Angel (1991). Johnss latest prints, Fragments of a Letter (2010) and Shrinky Dinks 14 (2011), layer text, cubist forms, and hand gestures from American Sign Language.
Johnss collaborations with master printers, including those at ULAE in New York and Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, are essential to his work. They empowered him to test methods unprecedented in the history of the medium. He said: Its the printmaking techniques that interest me . . . the technical innovation possible. Six ingenious lead reliefs realized at Gemini G.E.L. from 1969 to 1970 are featured in the exhibition, as are several important collaborations with ULAE including Decoy (1971), considered Johnss first offset print, Voice 2 (1982), as well as the artists newest prints.