Re Acquisition | Jasper Johns’s “Cicada”
Cicada, 1981, lithograph on Arches 88 paper, sheet size: 35 x 26 inches, edition of 58, signed, dated, and numbered in pencil
Jasper Johns’s early paintings featuring flags, targets, numbers, and other commonplace subject matter were a watershed in twentieth century art. Beginning in the 1950s, he opened the way to important developments including that of Pop and Conceptual art, providing an alternative to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism. Johns has worked in a variety of media, but since he first began working in lithography in 1960, he has engaged in a sustained and multifaceted investigation of the physical and temporal dimensions of printmaking. A frequent collaborator, master printer Kenneth Tyler said in 1970: “Let’s face it, he’s one of the greatest lithographers of all time…His stones yield the last ounce of blood lithography has to yield.” This technical dexterity in Johns’s prints is matched by their conceptual richness, and the artist has spoken repeatedly of the debt many of his paintings owe to his engagement with print processes.
Johns’s seminal crosshatching motifs may be the most resolutely abstract work of his career. The original pattern was based mostly upon a deconstruction of a seminal Edvard Munch self-portrait entitled, Between the Clock and the Bed. The bedspread in Munch’s 1943 painting contained a crosshatching pattern Johns would reference throughout the 1970s and early 1980s in his painting, drawing, and print work. Seemingly chaotic and created at random, Johns’s crosshatchings are in fact governed by print-based patterns of reversal, repetition, and rotation arranged according to complex systems.
Upon close inspection of the crosshatching in the prints entitled, Cicada, a cylindrical pattern emerges. The crosshatching on the right edge matches that on the left, so one can imagine them overlapping and being a continuation on both sides. This play on space becomes particularly apparent in this lithograph Cicada with its reversed lettering “JASPER” in the bottom left matching with the reversed “JOHNS 1981” on the bottom right. Perhaps this is an homage to the cylindrical press used with newspaper printing thereby echoing the reproductive process as well as its perspectival representation.
The title of Cicada itself creates yet another reference to the work’s meaning. Primary color lines mixed with black lines seemingly rupture in a manner reminiscent of the insect breaking out of its shell. Perhaps this suggests a connection to rebirth and renewal. A central element of Johns’s oeuvre, Cicada prints are included in the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Harvard Art Museums among many others.