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The Graphic Work of Jasper Johns

IF ONE OF THE VICES of current criticism is the exhaustion of superlatives, then it is not as crucial to dwell on the quality of Jasper Johns’s graphics now as it is to investigate other ways in which they are remarkable and unique. When quality is so apparent, to speak of fineness of impression, blackness of black and subtlety of values seems more the province of connoisseurship than of criticism. Yet the work does pose essential critical problems. Among these is the relationship of Johns’s graphic oeuvre to his work in other media. In his graphic work, Johns explores the same set of themes and motifs as in his painting and sculpture. This we might expect of him because of his characteristically methodical approach. But it might also be argued, as I intend to argue here, that the intimate relationship of Johns’s works on paper with his paintings and sculpture have permitted him to survive

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