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.
Ryan Weston Shook, also known as Saber, titled I Saw It in a Dream (2019) after a quote by Abstract Expressionist painter Jasper Johns and created the piece via an encaustic wax process, its layers creating a textural surface. The flag symbolism has evolved with the artist over the years, with him questioning its meaning for broad swath of people. Saber’s paintings borrow elements, techniques and materials that he once used as a 21-year-old, rising to international fame in 1996 after painting the world’s largest graffiti piece on the bank of the Los Angeles River. Eight years after the fact, the LA County Museum of Natural History commissioned him to paint a miniature version of his piece on its riverbed diorama. The visibility of this 250-by-55-foor work (documented by satellites in space) and his years of press coverage for other creations shined a glaring public spotlight on the form. The artist’s studio work exemplifies his further exploration of movement and energy.
Photographed as part of Beyond The Streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Jasper Johns began to incorporate a cross-hatch pattern in his paintings after seeing it on a car: “It had all the qualities that interest me — literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of a complete lack of meaning.” Using encaustic, a method of paint that suspends pigment in hot wax, Johns created lush, layered paintings with richly textured surfaces.
Between The Clock and The Bed (1981) reference’s Self-Portrait Between The Clock and The Bed (1940 – 43), one of artist Edvard Munch’s last works.
Jasper Johns Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art NYC. Edvard Munch Photographed in the Met Breuer, NYC.
From Jasper Johns Dot Org:
Jasper Johns created Green Target in 1955. The painting was included in a group show at the Jewish Museum. There the painting caught the attention of Leo Castelli, an art collector and self-described playboy who decided, at the age of 51, to open a gallery in New York.
Castelli had begun by selling paintings from his own collection; he also approached several young artists whose work interested him. In March 1957, after the Jewish Museum show, Castelli went to Pearl Street to invite Robert Rauschenberg to show at his gallery. In passing, Castelli mentioned that he had seen a painting by someone with the peculiar name of Jasper Johns, and that he would like to meet the artist. “Well, that’s very easy,” Rauschenberg said, “he’s downstairs.”
“I walked into the studio,” Castelli recalled, “and there was this attractive, very shy young man, and all these paintings. It was astonishing, a complete body of work. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
For Johns, who did not want to be associated with any particular group of painters, Castelli’s gallery was ideal, since it was new and had no specific identity. Castelli showed Johns’ Flag (1955) in a group show at his gallery later in 1957, and in 1958 he gave Johns his first one-man show. Here Johns displayed the result of more than three years of sustained effort: his flags, his targets, his numbers and alphabets. Johns became “an overnight sensation,” and was immediately plunged into a critical controversy that continued for several years.
To understand the controversy, one must recall the attitude of the New York art world in the middle 1950s. Abstract Expressionism – that movement which took as its fundamental tenet the necessity of communicating subjective content through an abstract art – reigned supreme in the city. The importance of Abstract Expressionism was confirmed by the fact that, for the first time in history, an indigenous American art movement had gained international significance.
The New York art world cherished Abstract Expressionism; it was almost impossible to conceive of anything else, to imagine any other premise for painting. As Rauschenberg said of that time, a young painter had “to start every day moving out from Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, which is sort of a long way to have to start from.” The burden was very heavy.
At the same time, the second generation of Abstract Expressionist painters were often perceived to have “slavishly imitated” their predecessors. The early shock and excitement of the movement were gone. “As the art market was glutted with the works of de Kooning’s admirers, the real achievements of de Kooning and his generation were becoming obscured.” There was a sense of waiting for something fresh and new, and newly provocative.
Johns provided the provocation. His assured and finely worked paintings of flags and targets offered an alternative to Abstract Expressionism, and reintroduced representation – the recognizable image – into painting.
In the mid-1950s, Jasper Johns incorporated symbols such as numbers, flags, maps, and targets into his paintings. Here, he transforms the familiar image of a target into a tangible object by building up the surface with wax encaustic. As a result, the concentric circles have become less precise and more tactile. Above the target, Johns has added four cropped and eyeless faces, plaster casts taken from a single model over a period of several months. Their sculptural presence reinforces the objectness of the painting, particularly as the faces may be shut away in their niches behind a hinged wooden door.
See Elaine Sturtevant’s copy of this 1955 work at This Link.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.