Los Angeles

Jasper Johns

Everett Ellin Gallery

This so called retrospective is, in effect, a pick-up show including work from 1957 to the present. It does not function as a true retrospective in that it excludes some of Johns’ most important series of pictures—namely, the flags and targets. The show concentrates on the monotone paintings and collages of 1957–58 and the artist’s most recent work. The earlier pictures include two very excellent examples: “Newspaper,” a small grey collage, and the elegant “White Numbers.” The most recent works, though, are the most interesting in that they point up the major problem that today faces an important innovator such as Johns. Most of the obvious, logical directions in which he might have proceeded were quickly usurped by other artists. Thus, he has been faced with the difficult problem of where to develop his fundamental ideas, without “looking like his own imitators.” The new paintings, therefore, seem to be involved in a deeply personal struggle of autobiographical enlightenment. They involve reworkings of many of his older devices, but in often painfully worked relationships. The paintings are not pretty. They have a tortured quality where paint is applied in large erratic strokes, stenciled lettering appears, as do real objects attached to the surface and then either duplicated or identified by name in paint. The intention is evidently to create a kind of metaphysical transcendence of his reality versus illusion, art-as-object esthetic.

In a sense, these are bad paintings. They are pointedly lacking in the elegant, painterly craft that one has come to identify with Johns’ work. Yet, there is something that only an artist of Johns’ stature could put into a picture—a sense of purposeful badness handled in an obviously serious manner that again raises his question of what is art, reality and illusion in an art world that has become increasingly more cruel and corrupt.

Donald Factor