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.
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.