Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes

By Ellen H. Johnson | Go to book overview
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7 Art as Object

Art about Art:
Jim Dine and Jasper Johns

As Jim Dine says, his paintings make 'a statement about art the way someone else talks about Detroit cars, objectively, as another kind of thing, a subject.' Although Jasper Johns's thought and language are usually more involved, he put a similar idea simply when he said, 'We paint the things we work with.' But Johns presents those things very differently from Dine, whose palettes, colour charts, watercolour boxes and T-squares are stark, unadorned images, objects which 'are just there', whereas Johns tends more to use his colour devices, value scales, rulers less for themselves than as but another item in his slowly worked, carefully adjusted painting. Where Dine's focus is direct in its absolute clarity, Johns's, except perhaps for the early flags, is a multifaceted, equivocal, rotating focus. Dine's images are fixed, immutable; even when he paints the transmutation of a flower into a fan, he does it in a series of five distinctly intact images. In Johns's work, however, as Diver (92), the complex interweavings between the panels and the contradictory images imply constantly changing time, location, morphology and meaning. The diver's arms thrust tautly up and down at the same time; the word 'red' appears in blue paint, the 'yellow' in red and the word 'yellow' is cut off in the middle, suggesting that time extends beyond the edge of the picture. In some of his paintings, Fool's House for example, a word broken off on the right is completed on the left which induces a feeling of rotation as though the space implied on the two-dimensional surface continues physically around and encircles the picture. The value scale in Diver moves down from black to white but at the bottom it unexpectedly takes two large steps back toward black. Moeover, the scale is surprisingly shaded on some of the greys, and this, together with the scale's proximity to the diver's arms over the actively brushed 'water', suggests that the value scale could also refer to a flight of stairs - in any case to something with a more mechanical regular beat, repeated in the tape measure running across the centre bottom of the picture. The colour device on the upper left, made by swinging the section of a stretcher like a compass over wet paint, does not follow an exact spectral sequence. Predominantly hot - red, yellow and orange with a few


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