Jasper Johns began to utilize casting techniques which examined the qualities of the skin in two of his most important paintings: Target with Plaster Casts, 1955 (Private collection) and Target with Four Faces, 1955 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). He returned to his examination of skin, when, 'In 1962, Johns had the idea of casting an entire head, then making a thin rubber mask from the cast and, cutting the rubber, placing it flat on a surface and casting the entire work in bronze. The result would be a "map" of the skin...' (M. Crichton, Jasper Johns, New York 1994, p. 47).
The mapping of the skin is an abstraction of the three dimensional face and hands, much as a map (another favorite subject of Johns') is an abstraction of the three-dimensional world. A map facilitates our understanding of how things relate to one another, Johns' studies display the relationship between body parts--ears, nose, mouth--when portrayed in two dimensions. Johns's explorations of the map theme include the largest painting he ever made, a rendering of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Map of the world made in 1968 (and revised in 1971) for the World's Fair. Made up of triangular sections of the earth cut out and laid flat, Fuller's Map is a more realistic rendering of the globe than conventional maps, with their distortions of the curvature of the earth, convey. Johns encountered the same distortions when attempting to map his face, and his Studies for Skin I-IV, 1962 (Studies I, II, IV, Collection the Artist; and III, Collection of Philip Johnson, New Canaan), and From Untitled Painting, show his solution to the problem.
Johns made these studies by coating the skin of his face and hands with oil, pressing those surfaces to paper and rubbing charcoal over the oiled paper. The charcoal fused with the film of the oil on the paper and created a smoky, ghostly portrait of the artist.