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Jasper Johns (b. 1930)
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Jasper Johns (b. 1930)

Untitled Study

Jasper Johns (b. 1930)
Untitled Study
signed and dated 'J Johns 76' (lower right)
watercolour and pencil on tracing paper
18¼ x 16½in. (46.4 x 41.9cm.)
Executed in 1976
Seymour Schweber, New York.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.
Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles.
Richard Hines Gallery, Seattle.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
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VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium

Lot Essay

Executed in 1976, Untitled Study appears to show the formulation of a pattern for the hatching which had, by this stage, been Johns' primary means of pictorial expression for almost half a decade, and would remain so for another. Combining the arbitrary with an impression of expressive labour, of intensive mark-making that verges teasingly and provokingly on the edge of evoking Abstract Expressionism, this hatching pattern shows the artist's fascination with the tension between order and disorder at work. He has taken hatching as an arbitrary, almost abstract starting point and, by imposing his own rules by which to create a work, has allowed it to spawn something that is at once self-generated and yet the clear product of the artist's own hand. 'They become very complex,' he explained, 'with the possibilities of gesture and the nuances that characterize the material color, thickness, thinness a large range of shadings that become emotionally interesting' (Johns, quoted in S. Kent, "Jasper Johns: Strokes of Genius", in K. Varnedoe, Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, New York 1996, p. 259). This allows the hatching to mimic, parody and formally respond to the exertions of the Action Painters by confronting their chaos with a picture that, while seemingly a swirl of disorder, is in fact the rigorous product of a preordained code or logic, a fact that the exposed workings in Untitled Study make clear.

Johns' obsession with hatching began with a chance glimpse of a similar pattern:

'I was driving on Long Island when a car came toward me painted in this way. I only saw it for a second, but knew immediately that I was going to use it. It had all the qualities that interest me - literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of complete lack of meaning' (Johns, quoted in ibid., p. 259).

In this sense, Untitled Study provides a continuity to his earlier works, which deliberately straddled the gap between representation and existence. Where his Flag really looked more like a flag than just a representation of one, or his Target really could function as a target, so too this hatching is hatching, not merely a representation of hatching. It has an opaque and insistent quality that reinforces Johns' concern with objecthood, while its origins in a momentary glimpse add a Duchampian twist of chance to its origins. The sense of objecthood is heightened by the sometimes elusive logics and processes by which Johns would determine the nature of the hatchings in his works, a process which is clearly on display in the various configurations shown in Untitled Study.

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