Spanning the last thirty years of his career, Jasper Johns’s monotypes make up a fascinatingly diverse, unique body of works, one that forms something of a microcosm for the rest of the artist’s body of work. Themes appearing throughout Johns’s career; jagged minimalism, number systems, and the incorporation of the art historical into various structures of subversion or reinterpretation, are presented again through a selection of etched prints across a wide variety of hues, subjects and approaches. This body of work is the subject of the artist’s current exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery, following his continued exploration of the monotype as an expressive and diversely capable medium from 1983 to the present day.
The range of pieces selected offers something of a distilled history of Jasper Johns’s work of the past several decades. His investigations of typographical language through his iconic numbers systems is offered new purpose through a re-creation of his 0 – 9 compositions from earlier in his career, while elsewhere, he delves into the material itself to create deftly partitioned yet exuberant compositions such as an untitled piece from 2014, which combines kaleidoscopic color blocks with evocative references to the fluidly cut forms of Matisse’s late works. In earlier works, the artist’s practice is noticeably more subdued, creating winding networks of roughshod lines that interlock and twist their way across the paper. In another series from 2015, the artist’s work makes deliberate use of runs of paint, and a faded palette to explore the more material aspects of his technique, allowing shallow etching and a wandering hand to create works that appear in a space between drawing and printing, as retraced lines and blurred colors create a ghostly attempt at the painterly interior.
Considering these works, there’s a strong interplay between the acts of exploration that runs throughout the exhibition. The pieces, both the recent compositions and more dated, historical works, focus themselves around the artist’s own practice, and that of his contemporaries, influences and even his own body of work, as if the meditative, deliberate process of etching allowed him a moment to reflect on these intersections of composition and arrangement as he gradually constructed the print blocks used to make these works. Johns’s print-making seems to be defined simultaneously in conversation with and in opposition to his other bodies of work, a moment away from the canvas or sculpture where he can methodically plot out the pieces’s construction, and his relation to it.
Monotypes is on view through June 25th.
— D. Creahan
Jasper Johns at Matthew Marks [Exhibition Site]