Modern Art Monday Presents: Jasper Johns, Montez Singing

jasper johns montez singing photo by gail worley
Photo By Gail

In Montez Singing (1989), the cartoonish eyes and meandering nose from Picasso’s Straw Hat with Blue Leaves (1936), along with a pair of  stylized lips, attach themselves to the edges of the painting, so that it becomes a face peering in on itself.  At the right of the canvas, mitered corners suggest a frame that dissolves on the left, while wispy strokes at the sides might read as hair and the circles below as breasts.

jasper johns montez singing detail photo by gail worley

Within this visage, Jasper Johns has inserted a childlike picture of a sail boat “hanging” from a nail and wire. This detail, and the painting’s title, refer to his step-grandmother, Montez, who was fond of playing piano and singing  “Red Sails in the Sunset” when Johns lived with her and his grandfather as a boy. The painting’s ambiguous facial features may also evoke a landscape, with lips as mountain, nose as cloud, and eyes as radiant suns — a visual pun frequently employed by Surrealist artists in the first half of the twentieth century.

Photographed as Part of the Exhibit Jasper Johns: Mind Mirror, Which Runs Through Feb 13th, 2022 at the Whitney Museum in NYC.

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