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.
“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.
“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.”
#VAResearchNewsBrief: The American College of Physicians @acpinternists released 4 guidance statements on #breastcancer screening for average-risk women. A researcher from the @VAMinneapolis was part of the guideline committee. @VeteransHealth #VAResearch https://t.co/vR1SDnsteD https://t.co/HHj4DPD7cI
@glenda_webb_ @TeamCJCorrea @astros @OrbitAstros Thanks, Glenda, for sharing this great photo!
The underwater dive memorial, called “Circle of Heroes,” will eventually feature 24 concrete statues representing the men and women in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy https://t.co/VOvuck7S6s via @MiamiHerald
As researchers work to create therapies to target #AML, safety is one of the critical challenges, according to our Dr. Elias Jabbour: https://t.co/S0Wggy1zlD @TargetedOnc #leusm #endcancer
An afternoon swim is a great way to help your kids stay active during the summer months. Make sure they are safe in the water with these tips from Dr. Katherine Leaming-Van Zandt. https://t.co/pVyiG4Jlk3 #swimming #pediatrics
RT @UTHpromotion: Join @UTexasSPH @ProfKimBaker, DrPH, at the #BlackMaternalHealth Summit in Houston on Aug 29 for #BlackMaternalMentalHeal…
RT @NBTStweets: “We feel an obligation because this has happened in our family…So this is our way to pay it forward…We feel an obligation t…
Take a warm bath 1-2 hours before bedtime to get better sleep, @UTHealth researchers find: https://t.co/Bi53wLDvwU
How our #prehab program is helping patients improve strength, endurance and functional capacity ahead of #cancer treatment: https://t.co/eKBYtRtWN5 @DrNgoHuang #endcancer https://t.co/1YQ2YeRYqA
Our Dr. Farhad Ravandi says combining CAR-Ts and BiTEs could “potentially be very interesting and very effective.” #immunotherapy #endcancer https://t.co/Jo7t9JwP9h
Meet the Army Doctor Who Will Spend Seven Months at the International Space Station https://t.co/0FpePtBHWV via @MilitaryOfficer
CHI St. Luke's Health@CHI_StLukes
Last year, Baylor St. Luke’s became the first in Texas to use the #PulseRider, an innovative device used to treat wide-neck bifurcation aneurysms. And now, our team is one of the first to use WEB, a new device in the treatment of complex #BrainAneurysms: https://t.co/QxomC5ne3w https://t.co/kzOvdKt9zO
Deadly fungal disease may be linked to climate change, study suggests: https://t.co/TKlCyiWWxW
University of Houston@UHouston
RT @Brad_Carpenter: How did I not know this little jewel existed on our @UHouston campus?? Get out and explore your campus today. #CoogLead…
@elephande Thank you for sharing your comment with us. Houston Methodist strives to deliver the highest quality, service and care to all our patients. We would like to discuss this issue with you. Please call 713.441.4100 or visit https://t.co/wPtazimDiv