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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection


signed and dated 'Jasper Johns 1979-'81' (on the reverse of the left canvas)
triptych—oil and charcoal on canvas, in artist-appointed frame
Each canvas: 27 3/8 x 15 1/4 in. (69.5 x 38.7 cm.)
Framed: 29 3/8 x 49 1/4 in. (74.6 x 125.1 cm.)
Executed in 1979-1981
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York.
Douglas S. Cramer, Miami (acquired from the above, by May 1983).
Samuel and Ronnie Heyman, New York (acquired from the above, 1998).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2015.
R. Bernstein, Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture; Painting 1971-2014, New York, 2016, vol. 3, p. 88, no. P220 (illustrated in color, p. 89).
R. Bernstein, Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture; Painting 1971-2014, New York, 2016, vol. 5, p. 172, no. P220 (illustrated in color).
Houston, Janie C. Lee Gallery, Janie C. Lee Honoring Leo Castelli, March-April 1982.
New York, Craig F. Starr Gallery, Jasper Johns: Usuyuki, October-December 2006.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror, September 2021-February 2022 (illustrated in color, p. 126, no. 24).
Special notice
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Jasper Johns’s Usuyuki is a radically intellectual and visually captivating composition that displays the artist’s famed crosshatching motif, one that he developed and mastered over the course of a seminal decade in his career. The artist’s highly arranged, hatched, and bundled forms are at once bold, resolutely flat and grounds for a whirling three-dimensionality. Steadfastly open-ended, the colored palette at hand serves as a vehicle of multiple meanings; it promotes a Duchampian viewing experience in which the feelings, thoughts, and experiences the viewer brings to the work serve to “complete” it. A rich open-endedness that emphasizes experiential perception accordingly suffuses the piece.
At this stage in the artist’s career, Johns began to expand his search for inspiration, moving beyond the ubiquitous (flags, maps and numbers) to art historical and quotidian references. Johns has spoken extensively on his inspiration for the famed crosshatching that dances across this triptych, attributing the motif to a chance sighting of a car in motion on the highway that he immediately knew would make compelling fodder for the canvas. “I only saw it for a second, but I 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 a complete lack of meaning…with the possibilities of gesture and the nuances that characterize the material—color, thickness, thinning—a range of shadings that become emotionally interesting” (quoted in S. Kent, "Jasper Johns: Strokes of Genius," in K. Varnedoe, ed., Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, New York, 1996, p. 259). Johns then merged this snatched glimpse of a car on the highway with inspiration taken from iconic works including Edvard Munch’s Self-Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed, which, too, features a thinly laid bedspread patterned with Johns's signature crosshatching trademark. Close inspection reveals the intricacy of the artist’s referential mind and the various degrees of inspiration that he coalesced to achieve what he considered to be a perfect composition.
The turn of the decade at the end of the 1970s marked a clear shift in Johns’s output as he began to trade in the gestural energy of his Maps and Flags for a new language, one defined by repetition, a lack of obvious context, and unusual visual depth. Johns repeats this pattern of crosshatching in various different media over the course of this critical decade, asserting both the artist’s technical prowess and the importance of this visual iconography. This is a composition of great versatility, potential and universality, one that agreed beautifully with the artist’s working methods. During the time of the present example’s conception, Johns was confidently executing this pattern in both prints and traditional paintings, both mediums musing off of one another. It was also to appear in another celebrated series of paintings from the 1980s, Dancers on a Plane (1980-1981, Tate Gallery, London).
The name translating to "light snow" in Japanese, the title Usuyuki came to the artist as he was reading a Kabuki story of the same name that poetically contemplates the fleeting nature of life’s beauty. Here, Johns captures both the serenity of nature and the sentimentality of humanity in his choice of palette and composition. Most prominent are the hues of wintertime; icy blues and snowflake whites blanket the triptych, colliding with stormy charcoal gray passages that elucidate the feeling of an oncoming snowstorm. Beneath the snow lies a mystical range of hues that originate from every part of the rainbow. Like the sun that lies behind a storm cloud, passages of sunset orange, glowing reds, sunny yellows, spring greens and lavender purples peek through the composition. Etched irreverently onto the perfected system of crosshatchings are a number of uniformly sized circles. Like footprints in the snow, these motifs walk across the triptych and offer the viewer respite in spontaneous passages as they scan this energized picture. The present painting is an example of stellar tonal and textural depth, with Johns’s choice of oil paint and charcoal allowing him to execute a picture with enamoring turbulence. Though Johns remains devoted to the parameters of his signature crosshatching, he paints each dash with an electrifying energy. Paint runs in every direction, ricocheting off of itself and dashing in staccato sprints.
In this work, Johns advances the distance placed between the artist’s hand and the canvas, foregoing gesturalism—and the associated individuality it appoints to the artist—completely; rather, Johns transforms each brushstroke into a predetermined network of patterns. Setting the foundations of Minimalism, a movement whose aim was to eradicate any hint of an artist’s intervention with pristine uniformity, Johns utilizes repetition and mirroring as a means to conceal his hand. He contains his medium and his own hand, assigning every element of the composition to this sequence. Yet, though predetermined, there is an uncanny life that Johns succeeds at breathing into this canvas, an exhaustive density of surface that buzzes with the energy of endless mark-making. A dizzying seduction of light and color, Usuyuki is like a kaleidoscope, built from recognizable elements yet ever-changing, glowing from within with the warmth of a wonderous rainbow.

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