Pop Art pathfinder JASPER JOHNS spent much of his early career trying to produce work that hid his personality. But, as Ruth Hedges sees in this new exhibition, his psychological state was much more visible in his later work.
mericans are stealing the
limelight this summer. In
London, Edward Hopper enjoys his first major British show while in Edinburgh, Jasper Johns carries the ﬂame. And as a picture of the kind of world that Johns was born into, Hopper’s inter-war paintings of empty small towns and their sunlit streets of disappointment serve as a potent reference source.
Born in 1930 in Allenade, South Carolina, there wasn’t much going on in Johns’ home town, and he has said: ‘In the place where I was a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn’t know what that meant.‘ Like Hopper 40 years before, and so many others, including Warhol, Rauschenberg and Rothko, after a brief spell at the local university, Johns took the first train to New York.
When he arrived in the early 505, the dominant artistic movement was abstract expressionism, the ultimate artistic manifestation of the post- war American Dream. Key AbEx practitioners ranged from Jack ‘the dripper’ Pollock, who flung his soul upon huge canvases and then sometimes rode bicycles across them, to Mark Rothko whose meditative, wholly abstract pieces represented more brooding expressions of the inner spirit. Johns’ way of thinking didn’t quite ﬁt in here. He had hungrin sought out work by, among others, Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, and was immediately drawn to the notion that ordinary mass produced objects, put in a new context, could be subversive, surprising and, most importantly, art. Johns took the abstract expressionists’ painterly values and introduced a playful, intellectual, iconographic element: an acknowledgement of the importance of popular culture, where the expression of emotion had previously represented the most important part of the mix.
Some of his favourite motifs include the American ﬂag and the Mona Lisa. In this way, Johns was among the first of the Pop Artists and it is to him, among others, that Warhol er al owe a debt. Would Campbell’s Soup ever have become so iconic if it wasn’t for Johns’ ﬂags? The two artists shared a desire to efface personality from their works. Through doing so, Johns very much wanted the viewer to become alive to the mixture of references dotting about his work. In a way, he is keeping us on our toes by forcing us to make connections between eyes, stars, ladders and flags, all nodding to contemporary iconography and art history. Jumbling up contexts confuses people’s usual associations, so that the star spangled banner is seen as
76 THE LIST 8—22 Jul 2004
‘WHEN SOMETHING IS NEW TO US WE FEEL THAT OUR SENSES ARE AWAKE AND CLEAR. WE ARE ALIVE'
new, and we see it for the form it is, not just our tired mental image. ‘When something is new to us, we treat it as an experience. We feel that our senses are awake and clear. We are alive,’ Johns says.
But this exhibition is of later works - paintings and prints that date from the 1980s and 905. Interestingly, though many of the same ideas remain. an autobiographical, personal presence has emerged, almost and sometimes literally, shadow-like. In 1984 he said: ‘In my early work I tried to hide my personality, my psychological state, my emotions . . . I sort of stuck to my guns for a while, but eventually it seemed like a losing battle. Finally, one must simply drop the reserve.’ Perhaps it is natural that as one increasingly has something on which to reﬂect, the I becomes more important. It has itself become a history of influences; an amalgam of important memories and images, personal and artistic. Some of the works on show here have been described as scrapbooks, and that’s not a bad way to approach the works of a man who’s been cutting out and sticking images through the medium of paint and print all his life. And rather than use himself as the starting point from the beginning (note to Tracy Emin and co), he is modestly acknowledging that, yes, maybe I’m a part of iconography now — let’s stick me in too.
Past Things and Present: Jasper Johns Since 1983, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 624 6200, Sun 10 Jul-Sun 19 Sep.
News from the world of art
COULD YOU HANDLE A summer in Venice, having put together Scotland’s contribution to the 2005 Biennale - Zenomap? If you think you’re up to the job, watch this space for ofﬁcial job ads as the Scottish Arts Council is on the look out for a guest curator for next year’s art jamboree.
MARKET GALLERY IN
Glasgow is also hunting for Mr or Mrs Right. It has a six week research residency running from 25 September-6 November up for grabs. The post includes artist's fee, accommodation, studio space and artist book production. To apply send proposal, statement and images and visit www.marketgallery.org.uk for more details. Deadline Monday 2 August.
GET AWAY FROM THE CITY and take yourself down to Cove Park. Irish artist Hugh Watt is currently artist in residence and a public programme of related events is to be announced soon. Spaces are available for temporary retreats. Visit www.covepark.org for more details.
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A copyright-free zone. A new curatorial project — Copy-art.net - has just launched and offers artists space to upload and exhibit their work while visitors can download for free. There are some fun things up there already - check out Bigert & Bergstrdm — your scribblings go up in ﬂames. LAST CHANCE TO GET YOUR entries in for the AOP Open photography competition run by the AOP Gallery in London. Send in your entries - any subject or theme - by Friday 23 July and you stand the chance of being exhibited and winning a Nikon Digital SLR and Adobe Photoshop Package. Check out www.aop- open.com for full details.
Venice Biennale 2003