- Jasper Johns
- 0 Through 9
- charcoal and pastel on paper
- 54 1/8 by 41 5/8 in. 137.4 by 105.7 cm.
- Executed in 1961.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC #144)
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Scull, New York (acquired from the above in September 1961 for $1,200)
Sotheby's, New York, November 11, 1986, lot 15
Mr. Peter Brant, Greenwich
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above
Paris, Galerie Rive Droite, Jasper Johns: Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings and Lithos, June - July, 1961
Paris, American Embassy, extended loan, September - December 1961
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Drawings, May - June 1962
New York, The Jewish Museum, Jasper Johns, February - April 1964, cat. no. 122, illustrated
Washington, D.C., The Smithsonian Institution, National Collection of Fine Arts, The Drawings of Jasper Johns, October - November 1966, cat. no. 26
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970, October 1969 - February 1970, cat. no. 161, p. 195, illustrated
Oxford, The Museum of Modern Art; Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery; Coventry, Herbert Art Gallery; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery; Leeds, City Art Gallery; London, Serpentine Gallery, Jasper Johns Drawings, September 1974 - April 1975, cat. no. 49
Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution; Basel, Kunstmuseum; London, Hayward Gallery; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Drawings of Jasper Johns, May 1990 - April 1991, cat. no. 22, pl. no. 22, p. 133, illustrated in color
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Jasper Johns: A Retrospective, October 1996 - January 1997, cat. no. 86, p. 208, illustrated in color
New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Master Drawings of the Twentieth Century, May - June 1998, cat. no. 26, p. 63, illustrated in color
Leo Steinberg, ``Jasper Johns'', Metro, no. 4/5, May 1962, fig. 20, illustrated
Leo Steinberg, Jasper Johns, Milan, Editorial Metro, 1963, pl. no. 27, p. 36, illustrated
Max Kozloff, Jasper Johns, New York, 1967, pl. no. 127, illustrated
Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria: Confrontations With Twentieth-Century Art, London, 1972, p. 51, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Michael Crichton, Jasper Johns, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1977, p. 88, illustrated
David Shapiro, Jasper Johns Drawings, 1954-1984, New York, 1984, pl. no. 54, illustrated in color
Genevieve Monnier, "Dessins: l'equilibre de l'alternative", ArtStudio, vol. 12 ("Special Jasper Johns"), Spring 1989, p. 102, illustrated
Susan Brundage, Ed., Jasper Johns - 35 Years - Leo Castelli, New York, 1993, pl. no. 25, illustrated
Michael Crichton, Jasper Johns, 2nd Ed., New York, 1994, p. 89, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Cleveland Museum of Art, Jasper Johns: Numbers, 2003, pl. no. 17, illustrated in color
“Some years ago Johns was asked at a party what he would do if he were not a painter. He said he would run a lending collection of paintings to tour the country by air. The distributing aircraft, he said, would be labeled: “The Picture Plane” (Leo Steinberg, “Jasper Johns: The First Seven Years of His Art” (1962) in Leo Steinberg, Other Critera: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art, New York, 1972, p. 52)
On January 15th, 1961, Jasper Johns bought a house in Edisto Beach, South Carolina. Until 1966, the artist would reside in this secluded beach house from spring to fall every year. It is here that he would elaborate upon a relatively new motif which he had begun the year before. Continuing his fascination with and employment of numbers as neutral subject matter, Johns created a quasi-abstract pattern achieved through the layering of every Arabic numeral from zero to nine, one on top of each other. He titled all these works 0 Through 9 and, during the spring and summer of 1961, he concentrated on little else, making eight paintings and only one drawing, the present work. Seven of these paintings, as well as this drawing, would be exhibited together for Johns’ second exhibition at the Galerie Rive Droite in Paris (Jasper Johns: Peintures et Sculptures et Dessins et Lithos, June 13th – July 12th, 1961). Johns traveled abroad for the first time (accompanied by Leo Castelli) to attend the opening of this exhibition. Formerly in the celebrated collection of Robert and Ethel Scull, this monumental drawing is one of the most important works on paper executed by the artist. Certainly it is one of the largest he has ever made (its size approximates those of the 0 Through 9 paintings he executed in 1961) and, at the time, was the largest. The technical virtuosity exemplified on the sheet, as well the ‘exquisite irony’ Johns manipulates on and of the ‘subject’, mark the present work as a tour de force within Johns’ oeuvre and one of the most important drawings of the Twentieth Century. This magnificent work powerfully displays “Johns’ desire [to transform] … Abstract Expressionism into something solid and monastic and menacingly flat while retaining the broken space and discontinuous draftsmanship of expressionism”. (David Shapiro, Jasper Johns Drawings, New York, 1984, p. 19)
The genesis of the 0 Through 9 paradigm begins with Johns’ early paintings of numerals. Johns made a small number of works displaying a single numeral executed in a creamy white encaustic over a newspaper collage, perhaps the most notable being Figure 5 (1955, Collection the artist). Following these small, single Figures were canvases depicting rows and columns of numbers, at first in monochrome encaustic on vertical supports (as early as 1957) and then in kaleidoscopic bursts, as in Numbers in Color (1958-59, Buffalo, N.Y., Albright-Knox Art Gallery). Roberta Bernstein notes that “In 1958, Johns painted 0-9 (0 To 9) in white encaustic and collage. The numbers are arranged in two rows, 0 to 4 and 5 to 9, so that a horizontal field is made out of the smaller, vertically rectangular units. Each unit is handled like an individual Figure painting, but at the same time it is an inextricable part of the whole (like the grid modules in the Numbers)”. (Roberta Bernstein, Things the Mind Already Knows: Jasper Johns’ Painting and Sculptures, 1954-1974, Columbia University, Ph.D., 1975, pp. 49-50). As such, we see the numeral undergo several transformations, both as an individual unit, as a single group or clusters of groups. From the Figure to the Numbers to the 0 To 9 works, one can clearly see Johns’ ambition to record as many variations in execution of a predetermined pattern of an image, calling to mind his famous self instruction: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”
The 0 Through 9 represent the zenith of this lengthy investigation (Bernstein catalogues fourteen Figure, ten Numbers and three 0-9 works executed between 1955 and 1961). Between 1960 and 1961, Johns made eleven 0 Through 9 paintings, one sculpture and two drawings, so that this series represents an equally important ‘subject’. The numerals are now zero ‘through’, as opposed to ‘to’ nine, “… to indicate the process of looking through space to see them, rather than reading them in a linear sequence. This arrangement creates an illusion of shallow depth since the numbers interlace and overlap … at the same time, they establish the flatness of the surface on which they are [executed]” (Ibid., pp. 50-51). Leo Steinberg notes that “… succession had given way to transparency and superposition … It accords well with his moral position that Johns should have hit on the idea of annulling the seniority rule among numbers.” (Leo Steinberg, “Jasper Johns: The First Seven Years of His Art” (1962) in Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art, New York, 1972, p. 52). 0 Through 9 works thus, literally, marry together all the previous aspects (and examples) of Johns’ employment of the numeral, allowing him to create Cubistic surfaces that voice a tension between plasticity and flatness. Of course, unlike Picasso or Braque, Johns does not use volumetric objects or beings to create illusions of layers, rather these signs are flat and identical in scale. No one number is privileged over the other: each one is present, and becomes part of the other as they dissolve into (and become) the 0 Through 9 diagram.
The two drawings from this series seem to offer the viewer the ‘beginning’ and the ‘end’ of the story of the 0 Through 9. The charcoal on paper, from 1960 (Collection the artist) sees Johns superimpose each stenciled numeral, attaining the unembellished structure. Here, the numbers are neither too obvious nor completely lost, with the result being a design of interlacing lines that is predetermined by the subject (and mechanically executed by the artist). With the series of paintings, Johns developed the pictorial possibilities available to him with this design, concluding with the present drawing. The diagrammatic simplicity of the 1960 work gives way to an almost Baroque treatment of the ‘subject’; a dazzling peacock-like display of technical and stylistic virtuosity, but one which still returns to the same design. Bernstein makes the connection between Johns’ 0 Through 9 works and Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings. Both artists were interested in describing pictorial variation through medium, color and texture, but both remained faithful to the same ‘subject’ and its predetermined paradigm (see Ibid., p. 52).
In the annals of Johns’ emblems, the 0 Through 9 are perhaps some of his most complex. Underpinning the pattern achieved is the fact he has denied the validity of each separate number. They are no longer ‘readable’ and therefore their ‘meaning’ or ‘value’ has been eradicated and replaced with another set of meanings and values that are centered on his concern with surface. The objective thus gives way to the subjective; the rational is abandoned in favor of the sensational. What is privileged is the creation of a surface for meditation: one that the viewer can feel. Ironically, this surface is created from phenomena that do not exist in nature, nor can they be apprehended by the senses. Johns had spent the summer of 1961 reading the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s (1889-1951) famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In it, Wittgenstein claimed that philosophical problems arose from misunderstandings of the logic of language. Johns shared Wittgenstein’s concern for logic, and also for displaying moments when logic broke down. The 0 Through 9 series displays Johns’ systematic examination of the ultimate breakdown of logic. By taking each separate number, and superimposing them, the logical, objective clarity of the number (and its meaning) gives way to the random, subjective ‘reading’ of the abstract design their superimposition creates. Just as he had done with the flag and the target, those ‘things the mind knows already’, Johns used conventional systems of numbers to generate surfaces of (for him) unusual abandon. This is most certainly the case with the present work, bringing to mind Mark Rosenthal’s comment that Johns’ images “… ceaselessly puzzle and perplex … And then, just as the inquiry reaches frustration, glimmers appear, not just of meaning, but of touching sensual beauty … This hardheaded art becomes an extraordinary tangle of raw emotion, dazzlingly complex and poetic content” (Mark Rosenthal, “The Art of Jasper Johns: Further Thoughts” in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Jasper Johns: Drawings, January – May 2003, p. 8).
The present drawing is a work made after both the original drawing (one might say the ‘manuscript’) and a number of paintings. In 1908 Picasso made a series of studies after his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907, The Museum of Modern Art, New York). Johns, just like Picasso, is known for making drawings concerned with the same subject depicted in a recently executed major painting. Both artists are interested in exploring particular problems in visual representation generated by previous paintings. As Nan Rosenthal notes, “It would be more faithful to Johns’ modus operandi … to describe his characteristic activity with drawing as a form of deeply serious play, ‘postplay’ rather than foreplay …” (Nan Rosenthal, “Drawing as Rereading” in Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art [and traveling], The Drawings of Jasper Johns, 1990-91, p. 15).
The 0 Through 9 series displays the close integration between all of Johns’ work in all categories. Johns’ “...characteristic procedure with drawing, of making highly finished works based on images he has previously painted, may be compared to his practice with painting, of depicting certain images in the primary colors and then in a form of grisaille …” (Ibid.). The relationship between the various disciplines is a very fluid one, and their effect within the picture plane is very much like having different voices perform in the same musical enterprise. We hear the same words, but we have a different experience. What is self evident is that Johns does not approach the discipline of drawing exclusively as a means of creating ideas to execute in his paintings. The mantra of “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it” can be connected to Johns’ process of making drawings after paintings. Doing something to an image, of course, is about selection; about choosing a medium and how one manipulates it and these decisions to do ‘something’, and then ‘something else’ on the sheet are beautifully delineated in the present work. Drawings provide “new thoughts” for the ‘subject’ and are thus often more playful, and this is clearly the case with the 0 Through 9 series. No painting displays the same planar fragmentation, tonal or textural modulation and sheer technical variety as one finds in the present drawing. Rosenthal notes that “… Johns has placed a system of seemingly abstract marks on the surface in such a way that his virtuosity with materials and the lushness of the pattern unite to emphasize the presence of his hand” (Rosenthal, p. 19). No signifying system is privileged – often systems are juxtaposed; used for several simultaneous purposes … “Thus the experience of “reading” a work by Johns is like hearing and understanding several languages spoken simultaneously” (Op. Cit., p. 19).
Such a variegation of different styles, techniques and systems within the same composition comes out of Cubism and Surrealism. From Cubism, Johns took the principle that a means of representation may signify in different ways at different times. Thus, this 0 Through 9 can be seen juxtaposing a number of diverse styles, exploiting their individual properties as they are seen in contrast with one another. Here, the artist is extremely complex with his technical explorations. Johns is consciously searching to discover every possible nuance of what the medium is capable of, so much so that he achieves an individual vocabulary within that medium. Here, charcoal is primarily employed; it moves around the paper easily, lending fluidity to the composition; it is easily managed, and its physical manipulation by the artist on the sheet lends the surface its gradations of tone and, thus, volume. Johns has also employed pastel – a transient, crumbly material, one that is readily rubbed – and here he has used it to engender a three-dimensional quality to the design.
What immediately strikes the viewer with this 0 Through 9 is the extraordinary variety of techniques employed by the artist, and the magnificent handling of his chosen medium. The predetermined design of the numbers has been stenciled onto the paper; wide passages of the composition, particularly in the open areas of the lower half of the sheet, reveal where the artist has rubbed charcoal over the sheet against the studio wall, in the process imprinting the texture of that surface. Flurries of intense hatching dominate the upper left quadrant of the sheet, serving to disguise the identity of certain numbers, yet pushing the stenciled network of the 0 Through 9 design out of the pictorial plane. Dryer areas of softer rubbing are juxtaposed with this section, as if offering a visual relief from the intensity of that application. Some of the delineation is crisp; other areas more smudged. Washy, charcoal waves sometimes reach a crescendo, and sometimes gently pass by. There is such extraordinary motion within the composition, achieved because Johns’ drawing is a very physical account of his actions as a mark maker. Such actions “… give him entry into a work, just as his various drawing systems establish a place from which to move.” (Ruth E. Fine, “Making Marks” in Exh. Cat., The Drawings of Jasper Johns, Op. Cit., p. 60). The material and the variation of its mode of representation becomes one of the subjects of the work itself. Fine notes that “The nature of mark-making carries as much meaning as his iconography, and functions quite specifically as metaphor” (Ibid,. p. 53). This extraordinary drawing seems to celebrate the process of making as much as the dynamic of looking. Johns himself suggests this when he noted that “… the mind can work in such a way that the image and technique come as one thought, or possibly one might say there is no thought. One works without thinking how to work.” (Johns in Exh. Cat., Basel, Kunstmuseum, Jasper Johns Working Proofs, 1979, p. 64).
Drawing for Johns is an intrinsic part of his artistic endeavor. It allows him the opportunity to think or, better, ‘unthink’. What he draws are not objects or things but something more essential than that: Signs or streams of Signification that seem, to all but a few, impossible to put into form. Through this bravura display of graphic capacity and through his formidable intellectual powers, we are left with a drawing that is such a work. 0 Through 9 is a drawing that does not organize, so much as it dislocates. It forces its viewer to look at the surface, to engage completely with it, and to make up their own mind as to what it ‘means’. Yet, for all this intellectual thrust, there is much in this drawing that allows the eye to wander and simply feel the sensations created on the surface. Passages appear like fifteenth-century Grisailles; others are akin to Picasso’s Analytic Cubism. The varying degrees of touch are all beautifully orchestrated to work as a whole. What we are left with is a puzzling, curious ‘subject’ and the most extraordinary display of graphic ability that both intrigues the mind and satiates the eye.