Jasper Johns,                   Corpse and Mirror, 1976

Jasper Johns, Corpse and Mirror, 1976

I only saw it for a second, but 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.

-Jasper Johns, on glimpsing the crosshatched  pattern for the first time on a passing car – a pattern  that permeated his work for the next ten years 

Based on a painting of the same title from 1974 on which black encaustic hatching appears on a white field, Jasper Johns’ Corpse and Mirror printed at ULAE in 1976, was an ambitious undertaking from the start.  It was not his first crosshatch print and would not be his last, but the complexity of the composition is pushed to the edge through the stark use of a black ground.   

The title, Corpse and Mirror,refers to the game cadavre exquis or exquisite corpse invented by the French Surrealists where a player makes a drawing on a piece of paper which is then folded over so that only the edge is visible to the next player who continues, thus producing a continuous but not logically linked image.  Here, Johns furthers the idea of this game through the mirrored element, his signature crosshatching and of course his sophisticated mastery of printmaking. 

The printing process involved twelve lithographic plates each printed on a hand fed offset proofing press resulting in six individual yet related fields.  The almost indecipherable differences in his treatment of each of the six sections include a light pink wash, adding violet, yellow or blue to the white pigment, but doing so in such a subtle way that the eye cannot immediately process the differences on the black background. This is where Johns’ deep knowledge and understanding of printmaking and compositional intricacies is most evident.   

For Jasper Johns, the 1970’s hailed a move to experimentation with the abstracted crosshatch theme in his paintings as well as his prints.  It has become one of the central themes in Johns’ canon and is expertly executed in the work presented here.  The complexity and calculated sophistication in technique and composition are a hallmark of the artist in every medium in which he works. 

October 2, 2020, Prints and Multiples Auction
Lot 6
Jasper Johns
(American, b. 1930)
Corpse and Mirror, 1976
lithograph in white on black German etching papersigned, dated, and numbered 15/58 in white pencil28 3/4 x 30 1/2 inches.
Property from a Private Colorado Collector
ULAE 168
Estimate: $20,000.00 – $40,000.00