PRINT March 1996


FAMILIARITY OBSCURES ORIGINS. I doubt I’ll ever remember precisely when I first encountered Jasper Johns’ Alley Oop, a touchstone for my thinking about physicality and process. Along with Johns’ flags, targets, and numerals, Alley Oop instituted a new class of painting, at least in my experience. It was neither illusionistic like traditional representation, nor expressionistic like works of the New York School, nor purist, constructivist, or formalist like other symmetrically disposed compositions of its time. A narrative lay hidden in it—an episode of the comic strip Alley Oop—yet this painting told no story, nor was it attempting to convert fine art to the cult of the popular. Unlike the Pop art thematically related to it, Johns’ Alley Oop didn’t ironize the presentation of its comic icon, but probed the fictive caveman’s material realization, using paint to explore patterns of print,

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