Gray Alphabets

Jasper Johns American
Published by Gemini G.E.L. American

Not on view

The 1956 painting of the same name was Johns’s first engagement with the alphabet, as well as the first time he used the word “gray”—a recurring color in his oeuvre—in a title. Gray Alphabets required four matrices and four tones of gray to convey the luminosity of graphite found in a drawing of the same title and theme that Johns sought to emulate. Johns plays off the tension between the allover composition and the discrete forms of the blocks and letters. Each letter simultaneously reflects an established order—an effect amplified by the grid structure—while remaining unique due to variations in colors and marks. The rectangular shapes recall wooden blocks used by children for both play and learning as well as, in a larger sense, the function of letters as the building blocks of language and, by extension, knowledge.

Gray Alphabets, Jasper Johns (American, born Augusta, Georgia, 1930), Lithograph

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