The Jasper Johns exhibition at Matthew Marks is an appropriate extension of his gray retrospective at the Met, both shows reveal with variety and precision his interests in literal execution and contemplative self-expression.
As a widely studied figure, Johns has been historicized for his use of representational icons such as targets, numbers, the alphabet, and the american flag. These motifs are easily recognized and the viewer is familiar with these representations creating singular interpretation through the view of universal symbols. He often gives new meaning, whether multiple meaning or non-meaning, to everyday objects incorporated directly onto canvas such as brooms, rules, strings, and household utensils, giving them triple functions as image, tool, and text. Johns reverberates the multiplicity of function and interpretation thru creating series after series of sketches and paintings, as if fighting each element for perfection.
Each flag, target, alphabet motif is generously represented in the Met, except with the absence of color. This thesis oriented exhibition breathes fresh air, albeit a foggy, thick and humid air, into all his signature works. The lack of primary and tertiary colors usually represented are silenced and choked by an overwhelming barrage of gray.
In Fool's House, 1962, a broom with wooden handle hangs vertically by a hinge at the top of the canvas, its body stained and used by the paint. It is also used as a mark maker evident by the scratch swooshy pattern made by sweeping the broom dipped in paint across the bottom of the canvas. A spontaneous and effortless gesture made by the artist, the broom seems to breathe life marking its presence, its significance in the back and forth act of sweeping. Johns uses text to label each item on canvas, a towel, stretcher line the bottom with a cup hanging off the tip by a hook. Each is labeled in a sloppy sketchy manner with an arrow relating the text to each item. A diagram, presentation, statement of the obvious, an inventory of belongings inside a fool's house, the fool most likely being the artist himself as he presents us with objects in his studio, the objects that he is most intimate with, the most widely used and functional. The oversimplification and literalism of the works are rife with dead pan humor mixed with somber meditation on the meaning of things.
A more recent work, Untitled, 1992-1995 keeps to the idea of using familiar icons, such as a floorpolan, stick figures, and eyes, and mixes with abstract figurative and non figurative motifs, the use of line as it billows around the canvas and makes for a surrealist take on object making. The background is split in three shades and patterned with dots, text and lines. A ladder sits diagonally on a cross, and somber stick figure prances around out of the cross as if just stepping off this ladder, a fallen man entering a surreality encased with abstraction. A geometric symbol consisting of two circles supported by diamond bodies and triangular wings float above this figure as if angels in duality representing his conscious. The colors are muted and thick, the motifs are plenty, overlapping and tumbling within each other's presence. The scattered positioning seem to be a reflection of the happenings within a mind, the thoughts and emotions presented in a conglomeration of literal and fantastical images.
These symbols of ladder, stick figure, and angelic form are also presented in a sketch shown at Matthew Marks, a repetitive positioning of scattered images, spontaneous in placement, a marking of the mind.
The drawings in the Matthew Marks show reveal the artist's interests in mark making in the last decade, many with references to Matisse and Picasso, an ode to modernist expression. There is also presented a few works on gray, the cross hatching and rectangular shaping create a field of abstracted infinitum. The exploratory referencing reveals the artist's recent interest in back tracking to history of mark making and representing.
Both exhibitions reveal an artist always at work, his never ending curiosities an impulse, a statement to the exploratory learning process of an artist who has himself made a mark in history.