Jasper Johns Gray: Looking and Seeing (by Clairan Ferrono)

Near the Lagoon 2003

Near the Lagoon 2003 118x79x4″

Can you always articulate why you like or dislike a piece of art?  I can’t.  Several years ago, when the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago had just opened, I was just looking for a bench, exhausted by the  many wondrous works I had seen.  Instead, my eye was caught by a very large, monochromatic — painting, collage, sculpture? — I couldn’t even tell what it was!

It was Jasper Johns’ Near the Lagoon.

I examined it minutely.  Time passed.  I sat with it.  I tried to sketch it.  What was it about it that so riveted me? Jasper Johns? He was the guy with the flags, right?  Nope, not interested . . . or was I?  I needed to know more.

White Flag  1955 79x120"

White Flag 1955 79×120″

White Flag.  It’s sort of white, sort of a flag.  But far more interesting.  Johns is interested in “how we see and why we see.”  He wants us not only to look past the known object, the flag, but into it.  “At first I had some idea that the absence of color made the work more physical,” he explained. “Early on I was very involved with the notion of the painting as an object and tended to attack that idea from different directions.”

Gray-numbers 1958

Gray-numbers 1958

The Dutch Wives 1975

The Dutch Wives 1975

Catenary-Call to the Grave 1998

Catenary-Call to the Grave 1998

Near the Lagoon 2003

Near the Lagoon 2003

detail

detail

Johns attached objects to the surfaces of his encaustic paintings.  In the Catenary series, of which Near the Lagoon is the final and largest one, the looping string is the catenary (the curve made by string hanging from two points).  And it’s a real string.  In Near the Lagoon, one of the things that first struck me was the string — I had to get close to see if it was painted or not.  And then I laughed because the actual string casts a shadow, but there’s a painted shadow as well. And a little ditch caused by the string’s having gotten stuck in the wax and being pulled out. The color, in the wax, makes each brush stroke individual, the texture a real physicality.  And the side of this fascinating work of art looks like part of an old door or shutter. A window? A real window, and a window into the painting.  The real and the painted. The object and the object objectified.  Johns asks us to look and to see.  To observe.  And his work is very richly textured and rewarding.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Jasper Johns Gray: Looking and Seeing (by Clairan Ferrono)”


  1. 1 olganorris April 6, 2015 at 8:21 am

    I have always found the subject of your initial question a fascinating one. I often think that the definition of a great work of art is that it should draw magnetically, but incomprehensively – at least initially. Great works of art inform us about looking, and give answers about seeing; answers to which we viewers have to find the questions.

    Jasper Johns is such a great example of an artist who keeps making the viewer think – even a viewer familiar with his work. I have not had the pleasure of seeing his Grey works for real, but frequently enjoy looking at the catalogue from The Art Institute of Chicago which reproduces them. I also have recently been deep in thought inspired by his Regrets exhibition at the Courtauld Institute in London – works all inspired by a photograph of Lucien Freud: http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2014/regrets/index.shtml


Comments are currently closed.



Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 216 other followers

Archives


%d bloggers like this: