Rhapsody in Ink


Still a vital force at the age of 90, Jasper Johns has produced a body of work that continues to confound critics and historians, while also engaging the public. An Art of Changes: Jasper Johns Prints, 1960-2018, which will run at the Walker Art Center until September 20, 2020, examines recurring motifs in Johns’s art, catalyzed by his protean engagement with printmaking. Organized by guest curator Joan Rothfuss, the exhibition—which debuted at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art in October 2019—culls some ninety prints from the Walker’s complete collection of the artist’s printed oeuvre and will travel to three other museum venues through 2022: Grand Rapids Art Museum, Tampa Art Museum, and Long Island’s Parrish Art Museum.

Johns is perhaps best remembered for his paintings of American flags, remarkable meditations on the tension between image and object that challenged the heroic dimensions of Abstract Expressionism and paved theway—as early as the 1950s—for the quotidian concerns of Pop Art. But Johns has also been a prolific printmaker for sixty years, and the Walker show invites us to consider this as central to his broader artistic identity.

In 1960, Johns first came to printmaking, thanks to Tatyana Grosman, founder of Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), a print publisher on Long Island that contributed to a national revival of printmaking by connecting the American avant-garde with specialist equipment and technical expertise. An ideal introduction for many artists was lithography, which entails drawing with a special greasy liquid directly onto a polished limestone slab, subsequently treated with gum arabic to fix the drawing. The stone is moistened, ensuring that the oily printing ink adheres only to the drawing and is repelled by the rest of the wet surface, before being placed in a specialty press.

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This story appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of MILIEU.