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This exhibition presents more than 100 proofs and edition prints drawn almost entirely from the artist's personal collection. Among them are 29 completed works that are shown alongside their preliminary proofs, providing insight into the artist's complicated working process.
Johns was at the center of the "painter-printmaker" revolution of the 1960s and was preeminent among a group of artists who broke with tradition by devoting themselves equally to both media. His works on paper, which frequently echo the imagery and themes of his paintings, continue to represent an important and integral component of his work. During the course of his intense exploration of the printmaking medium, Johns has expanded the possibilities of each of the print techniques he has used. At the same time, he has incorporated the concepts intrinsic to printmaking—reflection, reversal and transfer—into other aspects of his art, such as painting and sculpture.
Experimentation and variation are central to Johns's work. He has stated, "I think that the picture isn't pre-formed, I think it is formed as it is made; and might be anything." Johns's painting method, while involving constant alteration and feedback, produces completed works that bear little (if any) evidence of the stages of their dramatic development. His prints result from a similar approach, but the proofs made during the process allow the viewer to glimpse specific points in each work's evolution.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Johns often would embellish early stages of his prints with chalk, crayon, paint, and ink while he refined his imagery. These "thoughts, experiments, and asides," as Johns has called the proofs, reveal the unfolding of his painstaking working process.
In Philadelphia, the exhibition is supported by the Areté Foundation and Marion Stroud Swingle.