Jasper Johns | Process and Printmaking
BY Helen Smith ON September 12, 2022 IN Gallery Blog
This set of four lithographs Jasper Johns is based on his earlier painting ‘Untitled’, 1972. The work, created across four panels, marks the first appearance of the cross-hatching motif in Johns’ work. The cross-hatching and the flagstone patterns were both designs Johns first saw fleetingly from car windows: the cross-hatching whilst driving along the Long Island Expressway, the flagstone pattern on a painted wall in Harlem. Unfortunately, when he returned to Harlem to photograph the site, he could not find it so recreated it from memory. Throughout his work, Johns was partial to both these motifs, although he employed the cross-hatching more expansively, saying ‘it had all the qualities that interest me… literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of complete lack of meaning’.
Jasper Johns often recreated his paintings in print form because printing making enabled him to experiment with the repetition of images freely. The artist once said: ‘printmaking encourages ideas because of the lapse of time involved… the medium itself suggests things changed or were left out’. Over a course of three years, from 1972 to 1974, the lithograph series ‘Four Panels from Untitled’ remained his primary focus.
You’ll notice that the fourth panel, featuring diagonal slats and disjointed casts of body parts, stands out in its appearance as the only representational work in the set of four. It was this panel that Johns experimented with the most, making 30 trial proofs in total before the final version. Throughout this trial process, Johns played with the interaction between positive and negative spaces. Earlier proofs contained more contrasts with roughly drawn shadows and bright dabs of colour. In one of the proofs, the wooden slats were even printed in black. Johns ultimately opted to print the slats in a subtle, subdued shade of brown similar to that of the casts and body parts in the composition.
Throughout his career, Jasper Johns experimented with printmaking, and his process reflects what he sought to express as much as the outcome. As Wendy Weitman, curator of prints at MOMA, New York, once said, ‘Johns has incorporated the concepts intrinsic to printmaking —reflection, reversal, and transfer—into all aspects of his art’.
Shapero Modern specialises in Modern & Contemporary prints, multiples and works on paper, with a particular focus on American 20th-century art all of which are available to buy from our website as well as our gallery on Maddox Street in Mayfair.
The gallery runs a programme of selling exhibitions from both primary and secondary market artists, with six exhibitions per year, including collaborations with contemporary living artists as well as masters of 20th-century post-war editions including Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Claes Oldenburg, Alex Katz, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
Shapero Modern exhibits at major international Art Fairs worldwide, including TEFAF Maastricht, Frieze Masters, Masterpiece London, Art Miami, the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair and the London Original Print Fair at Somerset House. Meantime, Tabitha and her team are on hand at Shapero Modern’s Mayfair gallery in the heart of London to advise on all aspects of the art market and collecting.