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

Sketch for Light Bulb

Jasper Johns (b. 1930)
Sketch for Light Bulb
brush, graphite wash and pencil on paper
Image size: 7 x 9 in. (17.8 x 24.1 cm.)
Sheet size: 10 x 9 in. (26 x 24.1 cm.)
Drawn in 1958
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Andy Warhol, New York; estate sale, Sotheby's, New York, 2-3 May 1988, lot 3353
Waddington Galleries, London (acquired by the present owner)
M. Kozloff, Jasper Johns, New York, 1967 (illustrated, pl. 128).
D. Shapiro, Jasper Johns Drawings, 1954-1984, New York, 1984 (illustrated, pl. 32).
New York, The Jewish Museum, Jasper Johns Retrospective, February-April 1964, no. 94.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Jasper Johns: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture, 1954-1964, December 1964, no. 72.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum and Museum Ludwig; Paris, Muse National d'Art Moderne; London, Hayward Gallery; Tokyo, Seibu Museum of Art; and San Francisco, Museum of Art, Jasper Johns, October 1977-December 1978, p. 96, no. 29 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Jasper Johns: A Retrospective, October 1996-January 1997, no. 42 (illustrated in color, p. 159).

Lot Essay

Johns often re-used images to explore the potentials of various mediums and compositional problems. For example, the artist took the subjects of flags and numbers (see lot 598) for works he produced separately in encaustic and collage, sculpmetal, pencil, and pen and ink. Similarly, in 1958 Johns created a series of sculptures of flashlights and lightbulbs in various mediums, including paper mach, plaster, and sculpmental. Among these is Light Bulb I (private collection), a sculptural version of the present drawing in which a light bulb sits atop a brick. Like his other works from this period, Johns intended the light bulbs, as commonplace objects, to be a sophisticated and witty commentary on the process of making art. Beneath the beauty of the surface of Light Bulb, with its elegantly drawn and washed passages, lies the intellectual and visual joke of a light bulb that produces no light.

Graphite wash, in which powdered graphite is suspended in a liquid binder such as lighter fluid, became one of Johns's favorite drawing mediums. With its emphasis on surface, and implication of the movement of a solid into fluid state, the medium perfectly suited his aims. The monochromaticism is not only analogous to the texture and color of the sculpture, but it focuses the viewer on the tension between the surface of the sheet and the illusion of the object. Barbara Rose has commented, "We have seen how Johns often displaces elements from one context to another. Depriving color of its conventionally expressive role as well as disregarding the associative possibilities of objects, he displaces a great deal of the expressive burden of his work to technique... But the technical brilliance of Johns's works on paper is surprisingly not the result of his facility as a draftsman...His expressiveness arises rather out of an ability to create analogs of emotional experience in the tempo, regularity and irregularity of stroke, firmness or openness of contour and sensitive bleeding or dripping wash passages." ("The Graphic Work of Jasper Johns: Part II," Artforum, no. 1, vol. 9, September 1970, pp. 69-70, quoted in K. Varnedoe, "Introduction: A Sense of Life," Jasper Johns: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, pp. 33-34)