WOW! – Work of the Week – Josef Albers, Variant II



Josef Albers
Variant II, from 10 Variants
1966
Screenprint on Rives BKF paper
17 x 17 in.
Edition of 200
Initialed in pencil signed, dated, numbered and titled


About the work:
Josef Albers, who was a founding member of the Bauhaus, played a pivotal role in the development of the modernist aesthetic. He experimented vastly with form, line and color to explore visual perception, and paved the way for the minimalist, optical and hard-edge movements that would follow him.
While widely known for his Homage to the Square portfolio, which he spent decades exploring, Albers also spent significant time and energy on his Variant/Adobe works.
The mention of “adobe” might evoke, at first, a computer software giant. The word originates from Spanish, meaning mud-brick and is among the earliest of building materials. It is also used to refer to an earth-based construction. These traditional structures were a source of great inspiration for the modern artist and color theoretician Josef Albers.
Beginning in 1935, the artist traveled to Mexico over a dozen times. He would visit and document in black-and-white photographs pre-Columbian ruins. “Mexico is truly the promised land of abstract art,” he once wrote to his former Bauhaus colleague Vasily Kandinsky. The art and architecture of Mesoamerica were the driving forces behind his most important works and series.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Variant II, from 10 Variants inspired by Adobe constructs.
Albers 10 Variants are a suite of 10 distinct screenprints, each varying in size and color, all based on similar geometric properties, which is true to its origin of the abode constructs.
The adobe buildings are typically unadorned with vertical, rectangular openings, which allowed Albers to easily strip the form down to its basic geometric elements. The work imitates these structures, composed of multiple, interlocking and overlapping rectangles, reflecting the facades of Adobe houses, with two windows on either side of a doorway.
Josef Albers sees shape, form, space, color, and geometry, in nature, and in the accent civilizations, and brings them to the forefront in modern art. His works reset the tone of the modern era, while paying its respects to a historical context, that can not be ignored.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Robert Indiana, American Dream #2



Robert Indiana
American Dream #2
1982
Screenprint on four separate sheets
26 3/4 x 26 3/4 each
77 1/2 x 77 1/2 overall
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered


About the work:
On Saturday, May 19, 2018 Robert Indiana passed away due to respiratory failure. He will be missed but his art and legacy will live on
“There have been many American SIGN painters, but there never were any American sign PAINTERS”. This sums up Robert Indiana’s position in the world of contemporary art. He has taken the everyday symbols of roadside America and made them into brilliantly colored geometric pop art. In his work he has been an ironic commentator on the American scene. Both his graphics and his paintings have made cultural statements on life and, during the rebellious 1960’s, pointed political statements as well.
Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928, he adopted the name of his native state as a pseudonymous surname early in his career. What Indiana calls “sculptural poems”, his work often consists of bold, simple, iconic images, especially numbers and short words like “EAT”, “HUG”, and “LOVE”. Rather than using symbols from the mass media, Indiana makes images of words that focus on identity. Using them in bold block letters in vivid colors, he has enticed his viewers to look at the commonplace from a new perspective.
Despite his unique methods, several important aspects of Indiana’s works clearly identify him as a Pop artist. He manages to give a direct and honest description of American culture while appearing cool and uninvolved, much as Warhol did by simply reproducing images of superstars and soup can labels.
However, what distinguishes Indiana from his “Pop” colleagues is the depth of his personal engagement with his subject matter. Indiana’s works all speak to the vital forces that have shaped American culture in the late half of the 20th century: personal and national identity, political and social upheaval and stasis, the rise of consumer culture, and the pressures of history. He uses his art it to both celebrate and criticize the national way of life.
In 1961, Indiana began a series titled the American Dream, a recurring theme in his work, which along with his other famous stenciled-text images—most notably LOVE—he has used to both celebrate and criticize American life.
The American Dream is the cornerstone of Indiana’s mature work. The roots of this powerful concept pervaded the artist’s Depression-era childhood, as well as the social and political aspirations of the United States during his formative years as an artist (1940s-1960s). It was the theme of his first major painting sold to The Museum of Modern Art in 1961. He recalls, “The first two or three dreams (there were 9 American Dream paintings in total), I would say were cynical. I was really being very critical of certain aspects of the American experience. “Dream” was used in an ironic sense.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Robert Indiana’s American Dream #2, a 4 piece set of screenprints each hung in a diamond shape, to form a 1 piece larger diamond shape.
Indiana saw the American Dream as “broken. . .no longer in effect for us and for lots of others.” In 1960, Indiana began applying highly saturated color to his geometric paintings. By the end of the year, he was adding words to them. Three of the four panels in American Dream #2 have the words EAT, JACK, and JUKE. Despite how simple Indiana’s verbal-visual amalgams seem, they contain multiple layers of meaning; deciphering them is akin to unraveling a conceptually complex puzzle.
In this work, the words suggest multiple references—for example, the word JUKE is associated with the greed of gambling and the fraud of “tilting” or cheating the pinball machine. Thus the imagery of casino tokens which gives a false promise and fantasy of American prosperity while also acknowledging the
failures of American ethics.
JACK may refer to John F. Kennedy, the great hope for America at the time, but very flawed in deed.“I think 1962 was the last year that Jack Kennedy lived, so that usually Jack refers to the president. However, if we want to keep consistent, in ’52 I met someone named Jack Curtis, who became an important friend in my life, and so it has a dual meaning.”
By presenting familiar words in new ways, he asks the viewer to reevaluate assumptions and emotions associated with those words. For example, no longer does the word “EAT” simply describe an act, but a whole set of social conditions and practices associated with that act. Viewers might see the intimacy of eating and its central role in family, community, and romantic rituals or they might understand the negative aspects of eating in a society where high-fat and gluttonous diets are the norm.
The word EAT also goes back much further and fills a large part of his life, EAT was the last word that Robert Indiana’s mother said before she died. She told him to be sure to eat.
As a child during the Depression, Indiana’s father left his mother, and in order to support him, and herself, his mother opened a restaurant, and so for several years things like eat signs also were a prominent part of Indiana’s life. The EAT aspect of this work is also a personal thing. It’s autobiographical.
What this work demonstrates, once again, is Indiana’s considerable style as a graphic designer whose manipulation of words, symbols, colors and spaces, can be pleasing and provocative. His designs reverberate, their elements bouncing off one other in dynamic relationships as they comment on the ups and downs of American life, his own included.
Robert Indiana provided an example of how to create work that was both deeply personal and universal, work with a clear message that could also be open to interpretation, work that spoke of its own time and reflected on contemporary events, but also carried a message to future generations.
The “painter of signs”, paints “signs of the times.”

WOW! – Work of the Week – Ed Ruscha, Main Street



 

Ed Ruscha
Main Street
1990
Lithograph
8 1/2 x 10 1/4 in.
Edition of 250
Pencil signed, dated and numbered



About the work:

Ed Ruscha can be called the Jack Kerouac of art. Since his first road trip from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles in 1956, West coast Pop artist Ed Ruscha has been influenced by themes and icons surrounding America. The drive, which he took with his life long friend, classical guitarist and composer Mason Williams took about three days in a 1950 Ford sedan.

At the time, Ruscha, who has since become an avid photographer, did not own a camera and the only record of the trip is a log that the artist has kept over the years. The two friends, who were still teenagers at the time, used the log to keep track of their expenses as they were trying to stick to a budget. The log tells the story of their journey. Ruscha has said: “My art, really my life, evolved out of that trip. […] The log took the place of photographs. I got a camera soon after arriving in L.A.” American landscapes and text are what the artist is best known for, both of which emerged from from his cross country experience.

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Main Street, by Ed Ruscha.

“Main Street” is part of the iconography of American life.
The “Main Street of America” branding was used to promote U.S. Route 66 in its heyday. Main Street is a generic phrase used to denote a primary retail street of a village, town or small city.

In small towns across the United States, Main Street is not only the major road running through town but the site of all street life, a place where townspeople hang out and watch the annual parades go by. In the general sense, the term “Main Street” refers to a place of traditional values. However, in the America of later decades, “Main Street” represents the interests of everyday people and small business owners, in contrast with “Wall Street”, symbolizing the interests of large national corporations.

Ruscha treats words as visual compositions which are typically categorized between pop and conceptual art. Works feature a word with strong connotations and a powerful visual impact. Ruscha uses the multiplicity of meaning to encourage the viewer to consider all the subconscious connotations of the word. This could be expanded to an exploration of the subconscious meanings hidden in all forms of language. The words elicits a mixed response within the viewer in which preconceived ideas about the subject are confronted and either validated or challenged.

Noting the transformation of Main Streets in American cities from small “mom and pop” businesses, ice cream parlours, and public square gatherings, to big box stores, chain restaurants, and consumers jay walking across the street, while burying their heads in their cell phones, the words Main Street takes on a much diff erent meaning than it once did. Ruscha’s Main Street, not only takes us back to the days of nostalgia, but also to modern times where Main Street meets and flirts with Wall Street. Innocence and American values are overshadowed by greed and technology. Overshadowed is the key word, because not only is Ruscha’s Main Street a sign of modernism replacing the past, but it also implies a sense of hope, that one day the traces of the past will lead to a happy memory, and a wanting to inject the future with the values of the days of old.

Rather than simply painting a word, Ruscha considered the particular font that might add an elevated emotion to the meaning much like the way a poet considers a phrase. By painting a word as a visual, he felt he was marking it as offi cial, glorifying it as an object rather than a mere piece of text.

The typography of the words in Main Street sets this piece apart from the majority of his work because it is not done in “Boy Scout Utility Modern.” Inspired by the Hollywood sign, the artist invented “Boy Scout Utility Modern” in 1980, and uses it regularly in his works. In this case, rather, the font seems closer in nature to “Times.” “Times” is a classic font, designed for its legibility so it is an obvious choice for a representation of the most famous street name in America: Main Street. Main Street is an ode and textual portrait of an American symbol.

Ed Ruscha is fascinated with the streetscape as a subject matter, and over the span of his six-decade career, Ed Ruscha has shaped the way we see it – depicting gas stations, signs or continuous photographs of Hollywood Boulevard. His works convey a distinct and bold brand of Americana. Ruscha explains. “I take things as I find them. A lot of these things come from the noise of everyday life.”

WOW! – Work of the Week – Keith Haring – Untitled C & D



Keith Haring
Untitled C
1987
Lithograph
11 x 14 3/4 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered
Keith Haring
Untitled D
1987
Lithograph
11 x 14 3/4 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:
1987
The nation of South Africa was in a state of emergency. Serious political violence had arisen over Apartheid and the National Party had won an election, yet again.
41,027 people had died of AIDS complications in America, and another 71,176 people were diagnosed with the disease. After 6 years of silence, then-president Ronald Reagan finally used the word “AIDS” in public for the first time.
Crack-cocaine incidents in the US had increased to 94,000 from 23,500 only 2 years prior – a 300% jump.
_______________________________
Keith Haring’s work sums up New York cool. He was friends with Madonna, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, among many others who represented the 80’s culture boom. By the start of the decade, the artist had developed a fresh aesthetic, with roots in punk, hip-hop and graffiti. His strong lexicon of caricature-like images in flat, bold colors, are so deceivingly simple and joyful that it is easy to be blinded to its political and activist content.
Keith Haring was a fierce and tireless socio-political activist throughout his life, and had a rational of intervention and standing up for oppressed communities. He was opposed to the institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa, fought for increased sexual education for the gay population in the face of the AIDS epidemic and was determined to raise awareness of the effects of crack-cocaine which ravaged the disenfranchised black society of the US.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Untitled C & D, from the untitled suite of 4 lithographs created in 1987. This suite was purposely done as a lithograph and not a silkscreen, the dimensions of the works are slightly smaller, and the edition size is smaller. It is limited to only 100 pieces. This was done so as not to be confused with the Pop Shop series, which were released on a more commercialized level. As with the vast majority of Haring’s work, this 4 piece suite of lithograph references deep commentary on societal unease.
Throughout Keith Haring’s work, the image of a television represents the mass media. The character depicted in Untitled C is on TV covering his eyes. At first, the saying “See no evil,” comes to mind. This is quite the opposite. Haring wants us to open our eyes and speak out against these evil atrocities, and not to cover our eyes, or turn a blind eye to it. Thanks to Haring’s repetitive use of symbols referencing different ailments of society, we know what he is critiquing.
In Untitled D, the yellow character seems to be tossing, or pushing away, another figure in blue that bears an X on his belly. The X is symbolic of the crack-cocaine epidemic that ravaged mostly impoverished segments of the country. Today, it is widely accepted that this particular pandemic was ignored by the media, at the time, in light of the people it was affecting. This is something that Haring was acutely aware of, and through this work, he gently provides a humanizing context that not only speaks to the situation, but also to his position.
Despite being one of the most influential and sought after artists of the 20th century, Keith Haring always remained true to his beliefs and humanity. He used his voice and platform for those who needed a supporter and champion. Untitled C & D are a clear wake-up call to the public to be aware of the problems society at large. This is what Haring’s art was about, it is not only colorful, whimsical characters that makes people smile. His entire body of work spoke volumes of the socio-political issues plaguing the world at the time.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Julian Opie – Walking Statuettes



Julian Opie
Walking Statuettes
2017
Series of seven hand-painted statuettes
Various sizes
Edition of 30
Signed and numbered


“I don’t invent or imagine things, just notice and record them.”
Julian Opie is a master in the reductive style. He expertly captures the essence and individuality of each of his subjects with minimal line-work and flat, solid colors. His highly stylized works can be characterized as a blend of Pop Art, Minimalism with contemporary sensibility that capture the world around us precisely.
Employing a variety of media and technologies, Opie distills everyday experiences into concise but evocative renditions, and his clean, thickly outlined figures have made an iconic impression on the contemporary art world.
Opie’s figures are typically drawn from photographs of people walking in the streets. He has admittedly gone through hundreds of pictures of passers-by and picks a select few to draw, which he saves as a palette of characters to use for his creations. According to the artist, each personage gives him surprises and opportunities to create individuality, that he could not invent, such as clothing or hairstyles. He then arranges them back into a crowd, and, like any crowd on the street, the composition is made up of strangers who walk distractedly, never interacting with one another. By making groups of walkers, Opie
composes a street crowd.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Walking Statuettes.
These 7 Walking Statuettes displayed together form exactly that, a group of walkers forming a “street or sidewalk crowd”
Opie’s inspiration for his statuettes stemmed from his grandfather’s walnut and leather desk, upon which, as a child, items sat at his eye-level – Bakelite lamps and stone pen holders, leather-bound books and glass bottles of ink. These items turned the desk into their own surface. In turn, the Walking Statuettes by Opie, turn their surface into a pavement, such as a busy road populated with people checking their phones and shifting their balance and bags. His creations are models, stand-ins, that can be placed and played with.
Julian Opie observes people closely, and like a caricaturist, he has a formidable eye for foibles idiosyncrasies and character. The paradox is that he renders these nuances in a flattened, abstract style that seems at first glance to be uniform and cold, yet, each statuette seems individual and real.
The entire series of resin statuettes are hand-painted front and back. Each statuette stands approximately 14 -16 inches in height, and 5 – 8 inches wide individually. Each figurine features the artist’s signature and edition number on the bottom of each figurine. Arrange them anyway you like to create your own street scene.
Drawing influence from classical portraiture, as well as public life in today’s modern society, the artist connects the clean visual language of modern life, with the fundamentals of art history. His themes have been described as “engagement with art history, use of new technology, obsession with the human body.”

WOW! – Work of the Week – James Rosenquist – Sky Hole, from Welcome to the Water Planet





James Rosenquist
Sky Hole, from Welcome to the Water Planet
1989
Pressed Paper Pulp in colors wth lithographic collage on Rives BFK and TGL handmade paper
106 x 65 in.
Edition of 56
Pencil signed, dated, titled and numbered

About the work:
“I’m the one who gave steroids to Pop art”
James Rosenquist
James Rosenquist’s larger than life brand of Pop is not the literal Pop Art of Warhol, Lichtenstein or Indiana. Rosenquist’s work, seemingly irrational owed a debt to Surrealism through large-scale, mysterious pictorial combinations. As his works evolved, he continued to employ a juxtaposition of elements and materials, creating complex compositions as a means of exploring design and narrative. His work from the 1980s through to the end of his career is still on steroids – vibrantly colorful, abstract compositions that explore perceptions of time and space, in addition to our environment.
In the mid-1970s, Rosenquist moved his studio from Manhattan to Aripeka, Florida where his aesthetic was affected by the flora and fauna of his new surroundings. His interests shifted from the culture of consumerism to an exploration of humankind’s place in the environment. The lusher paintings of the ’80s suit their time with their candied colors. Rosenquist, in short, is one of the few former pop artists whose work continues unabatedly to have something to say. However, unlike most political art, Rosenquist’s work seems non-polemical at first, and that is the source of its power.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is from the series Welcome to the Water Planet – Sky Hole.
The series came to be after Ken Tyler of Tyler Graphics Ltd (TGL) invited Rosenquist to work at his new purpose-built workshop at Mount Kisco in upstate New York. Rosenquist, who started his career as a billboard artist, was always drawn to larger than life size compositions, accepted the offer when Tyler promised him that he would provide handmade paper as big as the artist could imagine. For the project, Tyler devised a huge deckle box to make hand-made papers about 60 by 120 inches, including a giant printing press for lithography and etching measuring 120 by 240 inches.
Tyler had a deep seeded interest in hand-made papers and started experimenting with Pulp Paper projects in the 70’s, working on projects with Rauschenberg, Kelly and Hockney, among others, and by the time work started with Rosenquist, he had brought paper works to new heights in terms of scale, color and texture.
This blended perfectly with James Rosenquist’s desire to develop his idea of an image of slow-heating popcorn tied together with his concerns about the state of planet Earth – the only water planet known in existence in the universe at the time. Rosenquist included imagery that evoked the colorful and sensual riches of the earth and brilliant flora from Florida, set within a wondrous star-lit universe. ‘We all live on the water planet’, the artist stated in an interview. Rosenquist’s series of paper works were intended to act both as a celebration and a warning to what might happen to our planet.
The first idea that came to form for Sky Hole was birds of paradise approaching the water planet. The image was deconstructed into its component parts, made with curved lines of cross-hatching that would then be printed in color lithography. These lithographic elements form a collage that is laid on the brilliantly colored paper pulp sheet. The separate colors were made by filling different moulds with paper pulp placed on top of the large sheets of handmade paper. The method, was one of trial and error.
At the initial stages of the project, the method of using metal moulds, or ‘cookie cutters’, resulted in problems with translating Rosenquist’s designs into paper form due to inconsistencies of the pulp paper. But, always seeking to experiment and innovate, Tyler was able to perfect the system while Rosenquist developed the templates for each piece. For the large areas of graded color, impossible to achieve using mould shapes, Tyler proposed the use of a spray gun, used for applying stucco to walls in houses, which could spray the gradations of color across the pulp on which the lithographic elements were collaged. The technique was successful and resulted in a look of apparent spontaneity and effortlessness, contrary to the hours of preparation and a technique born of experimentation.
The collaboration between the artist and master printmaker created revolutionary works, Rosenquist, himself noting that ‘The wonderful thing about paper pulp is the color. If you take a magnifying glass, you’ll see a little fuzz rising like smoke off the surface of this handmade paper – like doing giant watercolors and letting this watercolor seep together at the perfect moment …’

WOW! – Work of the Week – Roy Lichtenstein – Forms in Space





Roy Lichtenstein
Forms in Space
1985
Screenprint on Rives BFK paper
52 x 35 3/4 in.
Edition of 125
Pencil signed and numbered
About the work:
 “I’m interested in portraying a sort of antisensibility that pervades society,”
Roy Lichtenstein was a pop artist whose works, in a style derived from comic strips, portray the trivialization of culture endemic in contemporary American life. Using bright, strident colors and techniques borrowed from the printing industry, he ironically incorporates mass-produced emotions and objects into highly sophisticated references to art history
Although, in the early 1960s, Lichtenstein was often casually accused of merely copying his pictures from cartoons, his method involved some considerable alteration of the source images. The extent of those changes, and the artist’s rationale for introducing them, has long been central to discussions of his work, as it would seem to indicate whether he was interested above all in producing pleasing, artistic compositions, or in shocking his viewers with the garish impact of popular culture.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is an image of one of the most iconic symbols of the world. The American flag, to this day, carries a host of connotations and meanings that shift from individual to individual, making it the ideal subject for artists to interpret.
Jasper Johns was the first American artist to present viewers with the dichotomies embedded in the American flag, and over the years, others have followed suit, notably Roy Lichtenstein.
“Forms in Space” by Lichtenstein’s example of the American flag, that leaves open it’s interpretation to the viewer. Although it is bears an obvious resemblance to the American flag, the artist has toyed subtly with its formal makeup, slanting and upping the number of stripes and inverting the colors used in the upper left corner, replacing the flag’s iconic white stars with rows of simple blue ben-day dots placed against a white background. Despite these slight alterations, the blocks of uniform color and flat surface planes make the composition an easy one to take in at first glance, but the image could easily be part of a larger narrative.
It is clear that a statement is being made. While still expertly balanced in form and color, the elimination of certain details and addition of others are important in unifying Lichtenstein’s interpretation of the flag, providing it with formal structure. There remains, however, an element of agitation. The lines of the flag, usually horizontal are set at an angle; implying movement. When observing the work, an optical illusion occurs, and the flag seems to be stretching outward, expanding, inviting each of us to be more socially and politically aware.
Always experimenting with the boundaries of high and low art, this work exemplifies but also interrupts the fast paced consumption of the mass media imagery. The viewer is asked to to look closer and consider what is being represented. The statement that life reflects art and art reflects life rings true when considering Lichtenstein’s use of the most powerful American symbol. His inspiration is drawn from the real, everyday world.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Sol LeWitt – Distorted Cubes #2





Sol LeWitt
Distorted Cubes #2
2001
Linocut on Somerset Velvet paper
43 3/4 x 42 1/4 in.
Edition of 50
Pencil signed and numbered
About the work:
Beginning in the 1960s and early 1970s, Sol LeWitt designed elaborate units of cubes, exploring all possible combinations and permutations of the three-dimensional shape. He once noted, “The most interesting characteristic of the cube is that it is relatively uninteresting. It is best used as a basic unit for any more elaborate function.”
Sol LeWitt is credited with leading the Minimalist movement as a response to the intuitive works of the abstract expressionists, and as a progression of postmodernism. His calculated, studied works brought to the forefront medium and form. With this simple artistic vocabulary of lines and cubes, LeWitt made use of a grid system to create an art free of iconographic associations. It was the ideas that underline and inform that held the content of his work. LeWitt created a new art-form free of narrative and descriptive elements.
Printmaking was an ideal tool for him to experiment his conceptual strategies. His print projects evolved from rigorous studies of straight line and color. Which brings us to this week’s WORK OF THE WEEK! WOW!, Distorted Cubes #2
Distorted Cubes #2 is a prime example of LeWitt’s interest in the line, cubes and seriality. LeWitt experiments with the illusion of volume on a two-dimensional surface. The cubes are examined through the lens of physical space. Each one highlighted by different perspectives of distance, height and lighting.
Each of the 21 distorted cubes is placed within one delineated square box, making up an uneven grid. The grid’s appeal lies in that it can extend in all directions infinitely into a space beyond the frame, but it also functions as a frame, which implies structure. The grid is modern through its non-decorative structure and order but also in its non-narrative qualities.
Sol Lewitt played a pivotal role driving art into a new and unchartered direction. His focus on space, form, line, volume, and color, created the Minimalist Movement. Along with other artists such as Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly, the minimalists achieved a new philosophy in art theory, that although reactive to abstract expressionism, furthered the progression of art breaking away from traditional, representational art.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Alex Katz – Laura 1





Alex Katz
Laura 1
2017
Archival pigment inks on Crane Museo Max 365 gsm fine art paper
46 x 30 1/2 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed and numbered

About the work:

Portraits are one of the great subjects of Alex Katz’s oeuvre. With his signature approach and style, he transforms his circle of family, friends and New York society figures into unforgettable icons. His works are defined by their flatness of color and form, their economy of line, and cool yet seductive emotional detachment. 

Katz is the ultimate master of the flat style. His works may appear simple, but rather they are complex studies of color and shading. A student of color theory, he expertly captures depth and dimension with contrasting and complimentary hues like no other artist. 

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is one of Katz’s most recent portraits, Laura 1. This work is the portrait of Laura Halzack, prima ballerina of the Paul Taylor Dance Company based in New York City. Alex Katz met Laura through Paul Taylor with whom he has collaborated with on over a dozen set and costume designs since 1960. 

Laura, as many of Katz’s portrait subjects is presented without context. In the compressed visual plane, she is placed against a background of a single dark hue, which contrasts with the delicate peach tone of her skin. No additional narrative is provided other than her first name. This lack of narrative heightens the enigmatic qualities of the dancer, and allows Laura to exist in and of herself. 

Influenced by film, television and billboard advertising, the composition of Laura 1 is like a cinematic close-up. The cropped view of the dancer’s profile is perfectly balanced with the black background. The work is cropped in a way that it seems Katz has captured a sincere, temporal moment, which he indeed has, given the ephemeral nature of dance. 

Katz’s distinction as an artist lies in the fascinating reductive, flat style. His mastery of color and minimalism is timeless. His portraits, also have a distinctive quality in that he always represents the society of which he is a part of and, as a whole, can almost be experienced as a family photo album. 

WOW! – Work of the Week – Jasper Johns – Device





Jasper Johns
Device
1971-72
Lithograph
33 1/2 x 29 in.
Edition of 62
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:

“I tend to like things that already exist.” Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns is the world’s most critically acclaimed living artist. His work bridges the immediate post-World War II modernist trends of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism with subsequent movements of Pop art, Minimalism, and Conceptual art. 

Johns was ushered into the New York art scene in 1953, when he met Robert Rauschenberg. The two artists shared an intense relationship, both romantic and artistic, from 1954 to 1961. They had neighboring studio spaces and deeply influenced each other’s artwork, exchanging ideas and techniques that would allow them to break from Abstract Expressionism. Their relationship would lead to Johns’ discovery by famed art dealer Leo Castelli, who, while visiting Rauschenberg’s studio met Johns and saw his work. Castelli offered the young Jasper Johns his first solo show on the spot. It was during his first exhibition that Alfred Barr, the founding director of the MoMA, purchased a number pieces that were on display, instantly making Jasper Johns a force in the art world.

Johns’ breakthrough style was to appropriate popular iconography in his works with a rich treatment of  the surface as lush and painterly. By representing common objects and images in the realm of fine art, Johns broke down the boundaries traditionally separating fine art and everyday life. However, rather than direct representation or abstraction, Johns made signs, like flags and targets, iconic images in his works. The “things the mind already knows” were his ideal subject because of the varied meanings each carried with it. This would lay the foundation for the Pop art movement’s aesthetic embrace of commodity culture, paving the path for Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist among many, many other post-war artists. 

While Johns continued to produce paintings that incorporated Abstract Expressionism’s gestures and color blocking, he shifted his focus from the finished image to the concept behind it. His process, which he believed to be the actual art, took on greater importance. The artist made a seamless transition into print making. For Johns, printmaking was a medium that encouraged experimentation through the ease with which it allowed for repeat endeavors. His innovations in screen printing, lithography, and etching revolutionized the field. 

As the Pop art movement grew around him, Johns left behind the colorful works filled with familiar gestures and images and turned to a darker palette. Some critics attribute the shift away from color and toward the grays, blacks, and whites that dominate many of his canvases from the early 1960s to the rocky end of his relationship with Rauschenberg. 

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Jasper Johns’ Device.

Created in 1971-72, Device masterfully plays with different tones of grey, white and beige. The works that use what Johns called “the device,” were made from two stretcher bars attached to a canvas frame with butterfly screws, creating a mechanical arm, that would be used to scrape the paint on the surface in a circular shape. All of these elements from the “real” world undercut the traditional idea of a painting as an illusion. The development of the device theme in Johns’ work progressed to incorporate other themes, such as the abundant use of text. His techniques stress conscious control rather than spontaneity.

Over the past fifty years Johns has created a body of rich and complex work. His rigorous attention to the themes of popular imagery and abstraction has set the standards for American art. Constantly challenging the technical possibilities of printmaking, Johns laid the groundwork for a wide range of experimental artists that came after him.