Between chance and habit : the ink on plastic drawings of Jasper Johns




Heno-Coe, Gilles Reginald

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The ink on plastic drawings of Jasper Johns count as one of his most prolific and enigmatic media, and yet they stubbornly remain the least investigated on their own terms. As early as 1961, Johns became attracted to the medium’s lack of absorbency and the distinctive patterns ink made during the time it took to dry. These dense palimpsests collapse mind and matter into singularly resonant works; they are somewhere between spontaneity and habit, between immediate feeling and mediated representations. Less significant as indices of chance or deliberate effects of the artist’s hand, they more importantly represent a paradoxical medium, which as Johns declares, is unique in the way “it removes itself from my touch.” In this paper, I trace particular transformations across media, from painting to drawing and printmaking. In doing so, my analysis relies on the work of American philosopher and semiotician Charles S. Peirce, whose phenomenology and theory of signs is well suited to elucidate the significance of these changing symbolic and material effects in Johns’ work. As art historian Richard Shiff and others have written, it is almost as if Johns were like a medium of change and transformation rather than a medium of self-expression. In these recent drawings, as in most of Johns' work, he complicates notions of artistic authorship with a characteristic appropriation and transformation of banal images and everyday objects, a practice that has remained consistent in Johns' work from the late 1950s to the present. With Peirce, I attempt to analyze Johns’s materials and tools as an active agent in the creative process, something he has often specifically mentioned in relation to the in ink on plastic drawings.



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