Edisto Souvenir

Jasper Johns Fools House 1962

I have always admired the touch and feel in Jasper’s work. He managed to heighten his processes into a thick painted reality – something few painters really achieve. The brush stroke slathers through the image. The image actually becomes a thing. The thing once again reveals the process. Then the thing is nearly lost again, and that’s when the image and the process must be underwritten, revealed, and pointed out to the world by the artist himself, because even he may have forgotten it. What the thing was. How it felt. What it meant. Take a thing, etc. Every image comes from a dream or a memory, something slippery and real in one’s mind. Painting like this is a Fool’s House. But this painted thing is true, and it’s true in a way that Neo-Platonic Geometry and Endgame Aesthetics refuse to be true. This sort of thing is Southern and it unfolds in its own time.

Jasper Johns Souvenir 1964

Down South one’s image is everything. One might be a cad, a derelict, a gentle person and a fool all in the same moment, but one might also be forgiven for such emotional and declarative outbursts as long as one’s “truth” remains sacrosanct. The image of the ignorant, roaring redneck is undeniably a Southern truism, but it’s been my experience that there are all kinds of deeply affecting Southerners. And that’s probably why the South has produced great writers and great painters, and in many cases great friends. And when I’m lonely and tired I find that Jasper Johns’ work – always immaculately conceived – is a touchstone for a lived reality and a very old truth. These paintings are my souvenir – a token of remembrance and regard. And all one has to do is turn on the light to return to red, blue and yellow. Even at this moment when Jasper’s work feels like something from the Ancien Regime and my regard for that work seems to be nothing more than my own pure nostalgia, I am still taken by their shifty honesty.

Jasper Johns Between the Clock and the Bed 1982-83

As one grows older one’s image begins to slip and one reveals oneself without knowing. If you’ve ever read an interview or seen Jasper on camera – this language may sound slightly stiff and familiar. It is a gambit, a way to speak of real things without revealing real things. If one is between the clock and the bed it would seem we are talking about one’s own appointment with oblivion. And these paintings about death and life are among Jasper’s most abstracted works. Funny that. A nearly pure abstract painting done to confront one’s own mortality. This work is, of course, based on a Northerner’s painting of his confrontation with mortality. In that painting we see an old man standing between a grandfather clock and a bed covered with a quilt of cross hatched splendor. But in this painting Edvard’s image has been subsumed by Jasper’s process creating yet another very different kind of image. Decades of drawing and painting have covered over the old man with this final abstraction of a new old man. This painting is now our souvenir – of what exactly? Life, death, sex, impotence, time and painting? More? Joy, regret, fear, understanding and acceptance? The black and white world has won. But there in the lower right are a few small memories of red, yellow and blue. More southern souvenirs.

One Comment

  • anon

    This is a fantastic post

    How Johns could have been thought to be a proto-Pop artist or a neo-dadaist or some kind of nouveaux realist is just ridiculous

    He’s the artist who reivented everything

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