Jasper Johns: Wilderness I, 1963-70
Johns’s Wilderness drawings, begun in 1963 and completed some seven years later, refer to a number of paintings produced in the early sixties. According to the catalogue of Johns’s 1990 drawing exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, these canvases include M, Fool’s House, and Slow Field, works that “deal with the subject of the artist’s studio and his techniques.”1 Johns depicted artists’ materials in both the paintings and the subsequent drawings. The incorporation of actual canvas stretchers, brushes, and rulers served to produce a body of work that is at once graphic and sculptural.
Wilderness I replicates the vertical format of the earlier paintings, and the incorporate object, a brush, is the same as that used in M and Zone. In the canvases, the brush dangles from the paintings surface on a length of string or wire. In Wilderness I it hangs from a ghostly hand cast in resin, which was added to the drawing in 1970. The yellow hand protrudes several inches from the surface of the drawing, so that the work on paper, even more than its painted prototypes, takes on the quality of a relief. A ruler embedded in the bottom of the drawing contributes to this play between pictorial representation and object.
The sculptural aspects of Wilderness I are underscored by the flatness of the rest of the drawing, which is divided into two registers of largely white ground and has relatively little color or formal detail. The words RED, YELLOW, and BLUE are stenciled in a gray wash over the upper portion of the drawing. They recall the painting Periscope (Hart Crane), from the same year, in which the meaning of the words seems to be contradicted by their rendering in black and gray.
The objectlike character of all of Johns’s early work is echoed in the lower area of the drawing, occupied by the abstract form of a stretcher. The image of the stretcher coincides with the actual ground of the drawing, as if to underscore the drawing’s physical support.
- The Drawings of Jasper Johns, ed. Nan Rosenthal and Ruth Fine, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C., 1990), 168.
Text by Pamela M. Lee, from "Drawing is another kind of language": Recent American Drawings from a New York Private Collection (Harvard University Art Museums, in association with Daco-Verlag Gunter Bläse, 1997; reprinted 1998). ©1997 President and Fellows of Harvard College.