(American, b. 1930)
Contemporary Collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art 1968.354
© Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Catalogue raisonné: Field ULAE 57
Jasper Johns (American, born 1930) Gray Alphabets, 1968 Lithograph, edition 38/59 Contemporary Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art 1968.354 Like Jasper Johns’s images of the American flag, his Gray Alphabetsexplores what it means when something everyday and common is transformed through both the context in which it is presented and the manner in which it is represented. Letters are flat signs that are so ordinary that one rarely considers their visual form. The repeating sequence of letters in this work recalls the most simplistic recitations of the alphabet in childhood, yet these building blocks of language also represent the highest achievements of human culture. By presenting letters as art, Gray Alphabetsencourages a shift in perception about the commonplaceness of their forms. The grid format of this lithograph is one Johns first used in a 1956 painting of the same title (Menil Collection, Houston), which was inspired by a chart he saw in a book. Each row begins with a different letter of the alphabet but repeats all of the letters in order, so that each letter has a unique position in the overall grid. By following this system, Johns developed a composition with an “overall” quality so that no one area dominates over another. A group of works in the exhibition Jasper Johns: Numbers,currently on view in the North Gallery, also reflects this compositional type.
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