‘Something Resembling Truth’

Jasper Johns recently exhibited at the RA. He looks at targets, states and flags and aims to challenge the viewer by making the familiar unfamiliar. He uses repeated and reformed shapes and symbols which are disguised to force the viewer to look more closely at things the mind already knows.

I was particularly interested in Johns earlier work and personally think he was most innovative when he retracted his subject matter to just dealing with numbers or the American flag, creating different variations. Johns interest in Magritte, Cornell and Duchamp led to inform his early work and Johns started to explore the idea of PAINTING AS SCULPTURE. In Johns ‘White Flag’ I was interested in how he has focused on the remnant being all thats left. We become forced to deconstruct the flag and view it not as a patriarchal symbol but as a series of shapes and lines. I think that the limited tones and monochromatic palette of this piece is particularly successful at achieving this.

‘White Flag’ by Jasper Johns

“Johns’ early flat, target, number and letter works, some of which appeared in this first exhibition, established a new vocabulary in painting. His appropriation of objects and symbols – ingrained in consciousness since childhood- sought to make the family unfamiliar. One of the ways he achieved this was through the complexity of textures that he created on the painted surface.” – Edith Devaney (RA Guild for Friends).

‘Numbers’ 2007-8 by Jasper Johns
‘0 through 9’ by Jasper Johns









Johns became interested in exploring language by appropriating familiar words out of context into his work. Their inclusion started a discussion into mis-interpretation. ‘False start’ 1959 Johns uses language to jiggling the complexity of seeing and thinking, naming and perceiving. He places ‘yellow, blue,red’ over blocks of alternating colour so as we view the work we challenge our perception of colour. This seemingly is a theme which runs through his work in his sculptures ‘Painting Bronze’ (1960). These are two hyperrealistic reproductions of domestic items which force the viewer to question what is true or false.  Only the knowledge that it is a reproduction lets us know, otherwise we might assume this was a readymade.

‘False start’ 1959 by Jasper Johns

Johns plays with the balance between art and functionality. When looking at maps he make a point to retain their ability to perform as global representations. In ‘Two maps’ 1989 Johns uses a carborundum wash to conceal the image, forcing the viewer to look with intensity. Similarly in ‘Map’ 1962-63 we struggle to view the border of countries because of its stylistic application of paint however the piece remains both a painting and an object that preserves its fictional value although boundaries blurred it still retains each borders unique shape.

‘Two maps’ 1989 by Jasper Johns

I was particularly drawn to John’s ‘Regret series’ which is based on a photograph taken by John Deakin of 2 mirrored tracings of Freud on his bed with irregular edges and damaged surfaces. Japser Johns has taken this photographic image and reproduced it in huge variation, forcing the viewer to read something different in the work from each piece. I found that the curation of this work, using a ceiling hight wall to mount this series of work was very wise in dramatising how manipulation can completely alter your perception of an image.  This is something I would be interesting in exploring in my own work by looking at printing an image and destroying or manipulating it in a variety of ways, presenting them all to the viewer to be digested simultaneously.

‘Regret series’ (2013-14) by Jasper Johns



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