Curated

Inaugural exhibit at the Menil Drawing Institute explores what it means to be human

The Intersection of Art and Medicine


By Britni R. McAshan | November 5, 2018

Jasper Johns declared himself an artist more than six decades ago when he began exploring the human condition through drawing. Over time, his works have been associated with abstract expressionism and pop art. This month, a compilation of his drawings spanning from 1954 to 2016 will be the inaugural exhibit at the new Menil Drawing Institute.

The Condition of Being Here: Drawings by Jasper Johns takes viewers on a journey of what it means to be human—both physically and emotionally.

Flag on Orange Field by Jasper Johns

“We tend to think about drawings as pencil or pen on paper,” said Kelly Montana, assistant curator at the Menil Drawing Institute. “These drawings are also oil on canvas, ink on plastic. … You can see that the ink kind of does what it wants. … It stops of its own volition.”

Johns’ half-century fascination with the human body and curiosity about the human mind are evident in his sketches, which are reminiscent of figure studies by Leonardo da Vinci and the abstract works of Pablo Picasso.

“For Johns, skin was a container, it was a material, … a way to think about the body,” Montana said. “The skin holds everything in and is part of this world.”

In the studio of his Connecticut home, Johns covered portions of his body in oil to create Study for Skin I. Once the oil was applied, he rubbed his body onto a sheet of drafting paper and went back over the oil with charcoal to find impressions of his body to visualize the three-dimensionality of the human form on a flat surface.

“This concept of transferring the world into a flat surface is an idea that has longevity in art. Think of the Renaissance,” Montana said. “How do we make the world seem like the way we see it on paper? It requires an understanding of vision, but also a complete reorientation of depth.”

In Green Angel and an untitled drawing from 1973, Johns rearranges the human body. For the untitled piece, human body parts were cast and traced onto canvas with oil paint and graphite pencil. In an interesting twist, Johns did not place the tracings to recreate the human form, but jumbled them on the page.

Green Angel by Jasper Johns

“A subtle disorientation of the viewer is behind each of these works,” Montana said. “He has taken the elements of the lips, moved the lips and he’s moved them into this square configuration.”

Johns also explores the emotional toll of life in his drawings. From his depiction of an anguished soldier returning home from the Vietnam War to more domestic drawings made from the vantage point of his bathtub, Johns conveys the subtleties of mood and circumstance.

“The way his life transpired in the mind’s eye concerned him, so he went to see a psychologist,” Montana said of the artist, now 88, a Georgia native who was raised in South Carolina. “The psychologist called this ‘racing thoughts’ and said that they are very normal. There are lots of different things in [this drawing]—it’s the bathtub, it’s a weird sign in German—things that are major moments in your life mixed with private moments and these moments that stand out to you for some reason.”

Ultimately, Johns’ work is suggestive, even subjective, which gives viewers a chance to pull from their own experiences and draw their own conclusions.

“I think [humanity] fascinated him,” Montana said. “I think that if Johns wasn’t such a masterful draftsman, I think in a lot of ways he would have been a philosopher.”




Social Posts

profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

New military center opens in Bexar County to help Veterans transition out of service https://t.co/zlxe97G4rk @ksatnews

4 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @UHCougarMBK: COOGS WIN! @_ygchris with career-high 13 pts & adds 5 rebs, @SirBrooks3 with 16 pts & 5 rebs, @lando_1_ with 13 ptsNEXT…

4 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Local Magistrate starts support group for Veterans https://t.co/BhSOd1POj4 via @WVNS59News

5 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Erie, PA VA Medical Center is Helping Veterans Find Employment https://t.co/LL8ouq4zoC via @ErieNewsNow

6 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

Meet #headandneck surgeon @mekupferman and learn what inspires him, how he manages stress and how he is helping #endcancer: https://t.co/WJexdp17fQ

6 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

Help prevent the spread of the #flu with these 7 tips. #endcancer https://t.co/6HnKNwihfd

7 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

Rice scientist determine that ‘true polar wander’ may have caused Earth's latest ice age: https://t.co/YnCZ12C0OJ https://t.co/rH4bV7AwAO

7 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

Beyond Grateful: Read one UTHealth employee's journey from early heart failure to a lifesaving, innovative procedure: https://t.co/yjwbGYR2aA #ManyFacesOfUTHealth #GivingThanks https://t.co/iMDOuBTy4y

7 hours ago
profile_image

TAMU Health Sciences

@TAMHSC

Have you listened to our Pass It Back podcast — The #vaccine against the human #papillomavirus, or #HPV, is now approved for adults under age 46 years of age? https://t.co/VgJectVg79Do your health a favor, & subscribe to #TAMUHealthTalk today.#TAMHSC #AggieHealth #TAMUHealth https://t.co/BLGmJJaVA6

7 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Is the @bcmgcprogram accredited? How many students does the program admit each fall? Find the answers to these and more Genetic Counseling Program frequently asked questions. https://t.co/Nu43jHPX9I #education #geneticcounseling https://t.co/CdauvWzRFs

7 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

Treatments with PARP inhibitors are helping small cell #lungcancer patients live better and longer. Our Dr. Lauren Averett Byers weighs in: https://t.co/ofSHOiCIlZ @cure_magazine #lcsm #endcancer

8 hours ago
profile_image

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VeteransAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Veteran Alexander “Sandy” Bonnyman Jr. Sandy received the Medal of Honor for the actions in World War II that cost him his life.Sandy was born in May 1910 in Atlanta but moved to Knoxville as a child. He studied at Princeton University, majoring in engineering and playing football. However, in 1932, he dropped out of Princeton to join the Army Air Corps, but was discharged a short time later. Sandy then moved to New Mexico to work in the coal industry.At the outbreak of World War II, Sandy was exempt from military service. Despite this, he decided to enlist in the Marines and went to San Diego for training. Sandy was assigned to the 2nd Battalion Shore Party, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. In October 1942, he was shipped to the Pacific theater aboard the USS Matsonia. Sandy’s first battle was the Battle of Guadalcanal, where his leadership earned him a promotion to lieutenant.In November 1943, Sandy’s group fought in the Battle of Tarawa. While pinned down under heavy siege, he led his unit in the demolition of Japanese assets on the island. As the constant bombardment and firing from the Japanese continued, Sandy continued to lead a group of Marines forward to flush out Japanese soldiers and inflict damage on the enemy. His leadership and determination caused hundreds of enemy soldiers to be exposed and killed. While manning his battle position, Sandy was fatally wounded. His actions inspired the Marines to press forward and no further Americans were wounded in the battle after Sandy’s death. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart.Sandy was originally buried in a battlefield cemetery on the island where the Battle of Tarawa took place. His remains where identified and moved to his hometown of Knoxville where he received full military burial honors.We honor his service.

9 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

Why #diabetes increases the risk of heart disease: https://t.co/xRYcbk05Z5

9 hours ago
profile_image

UTMB Health

@utmbhealth

RT @UTMBProvost: Dr. Bernard Karnath has received the 2018 @Texas_ACP Laureate Award! This award honors Fellows and Masters of ACP who have…

10 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @TXChildrensPR: Dr. @PeterHotez provides important insight into the high percentage of children who are being opted out of vaccination p…

10 hours ago