With it complex accumulation of art historical and personal references, Racing Thoughts (1983) functions as a kind of symbolic self-portrait. The title refers to a psychological condition in which images and ideas run disjointedly through a person’s mind. Set in the bathroom of John‘s former country house, the running faucet and hanging trousers suggest the artist might be musing in his bath (which, in fact, was the case).
Objects belonging to Johns, including a puzzle portrait of his dealer Leo Castelli, a lithograph by Barnett Newman, and a reproduction of the Mona Lisa (all influences on John’s artistic development) appear improbably affixed to the amorphous background with trompe l’oeil tape and tacks. On a wicker hamper sit a pot by ceramicist George Ohr and a vase with contours delineating the profiles of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
By arranging these images in this way, he links them to his career-long preoccupation with illusionism and ambiguity. Disparate though the composition’s elements may be, they are united by a complex web of art historical and personal associations that conjure an image of the artist himself.
John’s also made a grayscale rendition of Racing Thoughts in oil paint, following his practice of making versions of paintings in different mediums and pallets to varied formal an emotional effect.
Photographed in The Whitney Museum in NYC.