A Trick of Thought

Jasper Johns Corpse & Mirror II 1974-75

“I’m not interested in any particular mood. Mentally my preference would be the mood of keeping your eyes open and looking, without any focussing, without any constricted viewpoint. I think paintings by the time they are finished tend to take on a particular characteristic. That is one of the reasons they are finished, because everything has gone in that direction, and there is no recovery. The energy, the logic, everything which you do takes a form in working; the energy tends to run out, the form tends to be accomplished or finalized. Then either it is what one intended (or what one is willing to settle for) or one has been involved in a process which has gone in a way that perhaps one did not intend, but has been done so thoroughly that there is no recovery from that situation. You have to leave that situation as itself, and then proceed with something else, begin again, begin a new work.” [Jasper Johns in conversation with David Sylvester]

“I think through living one’s life, one both changes and remains the same. One can see it either way, one can see oneself as being now what one was and one can see oneself as being absolutely different from what one was. It’s a trick of thought. It’s almost just a difference of mood as to whether I would describe myself one way or the other. I think I share that experience with most people. One can think of things that have happened in one’s life. But one can also sense in oneself continuity with what one has always been since one can remember.” [Jasper Johns in conversation with Philip Smith]   

Jasper Johns Untitled 1975

“One of the two Dancers on a Plane paintings is mainly red, yellow, blue and white. It uses a symmetrical structure without any great variation of inflection. I had in mind that this might suggest the heroic mood that I was trying to indicate. Heroic or stoic, not involved in impulse. And while working, I began to think of a dancer on a stage. I thought of Merce Cunningham and how so often his work seems colored by a kind of unbalanced energy. In the second painting, with complementary colors, I tried to show that thought.” [Jasper Johns in conversation with Marjorie Welsh]

Jasper Johns Dancers on a Plane, 1979

“I think that the commonly accepted reading of Johns’s career – that he rejected subjectivity, which we associate with Abstract Expressionism, in favor of detached objectivity – overlooks his interest in intuitive responses to life and art. As he has repeatedly stated, he had a dream in which he saw himself painting the American flag. When Johns made “Flag” (1954-55), he wasn’t rejecting subjectivity so much as merging a visceral experience with objective detachment. This fusion of two distinct states helps explain Johns’s use of preexisting things – or what he might recognize as objective counterparts for subjective states – as motifs throughout his career.” [John Yau on Jasper Johns

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