Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Review of Jasper Johns: Regrets at the Courtauld Gallery

Jasper Johns: Regrets
Courtauld Gallery, London
12 September – 14 December 2014

This small but hugely powerful exhibition of work by Jasper Johns (b1930) is the second in the Courtauld’s new series of shows by contemporary artists who speak to a longer history of art. The 10 works selected might be seen not only to summarise the oeuvre of Johns himself, demonstrating many of his known methods and stylistic marks, but also to tell a wider story of art and artists, their processes and interactions, and, more broadly, a prescient – and Old Masterly – tale of life and death.

In the early summer of 2012, Johns was sent a Christie’s auction catalogue for the sale of Francis Bacon’s Study for Self-Portrait (1964). In it was a full-page reproduction of a photograph by John Deakin, showing Lucian Freud posing on a cheap bedstead in Bacon’s studio. Bacon had, unusually, used this photograph as the starting point for his self-portrait. Johns became entranced by the image, which, in its reproduced form, had heavy black areas where Bacon had folded and torn the original, and where the copiers had placed the damaged original on a backing sheet, and thick, wiggly lines, where he had creased it. For the next 18 months, Johns worked solely with this image, creating and recreating numerous versions in pencil, pastel, watercolour, charcoal, ink on mylar, oil on canvas and etchings with numerous state proofs. All but the etchings are on display here.

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