Jasper Johns's Four Decades of Prints


November 7, 2003 - January 3, 2004

Four Decades of Prints by Jasper Johns featured 49 of Johns' prints that spanned the length of his career. The exhibition showcased his mastery in a variety of printmaking techniques including: lithography, etching, aquatint, photo engraving, silkscreen, intaglio and lead relief.

"Untitled [ArtSpace] brings to Oklahoma for the first time, an exhibition of Jasper Johns' Work. Untitled is one of only two places this 50-print exhibition, Jasper Johns: Four Decades of Print, will be on view. The exhibit previously opened in Toas, New Mexico and will return to its home in Kansas City in January. It is organizaed in cooperation with the Belger Arts Center for Creative Studies at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and the John and Maxine Belger Family Foundation. 

Although the artist painted the first of his iconic American flags in the mid 1950s and received international acclaim not long afterwards, he began to pursue the art of printmaking in the 1960s at a time when printmaking wasn't in vogue. After only four years of working in the medium, Johns became known as a master printmaker and brought attention to what had almost become an extinct art form.

Johns belives in the process, the process of art. He believes in taking ordinary objects or images and creating something from what was considered familiar. As he has said, he chose 'things the mind already knows. That gave me room to work on other levels.'

Over and over again, he revisits the same subject, but each time he creates a different perspective. 'I'll never forget what an incredible experience it was a few years ago to see a large exhibit of Johns in Dallas,' says Laura Warriner of Untitled [Artspace]. 'I couldn't get over the thread that wove through his work. He continues to revisit his images, giving them a new definition, a new place, a new purpose. He retains all his printing plates and recreates new work with his old plates. It's difficult to describe the impact his work has had on me. I was able to get a glimpse into the mind of this creative genius.'

In this particular exhibit of Jasper Johns' work, it's readily evident how adept the artist is as a printmaker with prints created from various media includin lithography, etching, aquatint, photo engraving, silkscreen, intaglio and even lead relief. Likewise, his recurrent themes are also evident in this exhibition with an appearance of everything from his Savarin coffee cans to targets to American flags.

By using ordinary objects as images, Johns helps us rethink our perceptions. There's a double take, the sense that what we thought we knew may not be at all. What is familiar becomes oddly unfamiliar. Maybe for the first time, we see something we never really took notice of before. 

He takes the mundane and gives it life. He takes the redundancy of life and makes it interesting. His art stirs us to revisit our own perceptions and see, by chance, if we too are just like art - in a process, a state of flux, a constant evolution from one thing to the next.

Bill Goldston, director of Universal Limited Art Editions on the East Coast, said of Johns' work, 'It is what it is. It's like reading Tolstoy. What you are able to understand is based on your life experience up until that moment. As you grow older and read it again, you understand more and it becomes more complex.'

In Jasper Johns by Michael Crighton, the author writes, 'For an artist who has already survived so many crises so brilliantly, we can be sure he will arrive at another motif, another set of concerns, another way of expressing his ideas. He will work himself into a bind, and then he will break free, and move onward, as he has always done, to our benefit and pleasure.'

And yet even more succinctly put by the artist himself, 'Take an object / Do something to it / Do something else to it.'"

- Nancy Woodard