Tracking The Shadow: Jill Johnston On Jasper Johns

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Jasper Johns: Racing Thoughts, 1983, encaustic and collage on canvas, 48⅛ by 75⅜ inches. WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK. ©2021 JASPER JOHNS/LICENSED BY VAGA AT ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK

In the recent show at Castelli of Jasper Johns’s latest work—four largish paintings titled “The Seasons,” with a number of drawings and prints related to them—one detail eventually caught my attention, occluding all others. The most obvious feature in these four paintings is Johns himself, represented by his shadow, cast life-size onto the canvases, worked from a tracing drawn by a friend. The same silhouette, painted in rich grays, appears in each Season—SpringSummerFallWinter—tilting left to the same degree.

This four-part work is as literal as anything Johns has done. Spring, for instance, is marked by diagonal streaks of white paint crossing the whole canvas and indicating rain; Winter is dotted all over with white snowflakes and even has a stick-figure snowman in it. In Spring, birth is clearly signified by the centered shadow-form of a child (inside a rectangle) directly underneath the looming, tilting shadow figure of Johns. The child’s head, cut off just above the ears, slashes across Johns’s body right below the crotch, sepa· rated only by its variant gray color and the top horizontal of the rectangle containing and cropping the child’s head.

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