Masters in the Print Studio

The thing I love about Jasper Johns is the way he zeroes in on common objects like numbers, flags and maps. His magnifying lens zooms in on these objects that in the process become larger than life. Take the number one.  Johns turns the lowliest of numbers into an icon.  From his microscopic vantage point, he casts his lush technique on flashlights, light bulbs and beer cans.  In interviews, Johns has said that his imagery derives from “things the mind already knows.” However, far from being just about commonplace objects, his work is rich with the texture, depth and painterly quality of the abstract expressionist sensibility.

Now thanks to Jasper Johns, who at 83 is circling back and forth between his painting studio and his printmaking studio, both in the same building connected by a long hallway on his Sharon Ct. property, we can see two exhibitions of his work: one at the Museum of Modern Art, Regrets, on view through September; the other at the Katonah Museum of Art on view through June 15.   Ellen Keiter with Belinda Roth curated the Katonah Museum show called Jasper Johns & John Lund: Masters in the Print Studio. It is about a little-known 30-year collaboration between Johns and his master printer. In the seventies, Johns created a set of prints to accompany a text by the writer Samuel Beckett. These prints may have been the inspiration for his extraordinary use and mastery of printmaking techniques such as aquatints, etching, mezzotints, lithographs and linoleum blocks.  The show comprises 58 prints in which Johns takes the images he has created over years and refashions them, repeating them in different configurations, always gaining new resolutions and reframing his creative vocabulary.

Different than the Katonah show, the MoMA exhibition is a new series of paintings, drawings and prints, which are variations on a theme based on an old photograph of the artist Lucien Freud. Both shows are precious vignettes through which we are privileged to have an intimate peek into the life of one of the foremost American artists of our time.  All I have to say is congratulations to the Katonah Museum for going toe-to-toe with MoMA.

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