Since the mid-1950s, Jasper Johns has reworked key motifs—flags, targets, maps, the alphabet, and numbers—in a serial fashion, exploring the impact of changes in color, scale, sequence, and medium. Johns favors subjects that “the mind already knows” but overlooks due to constant exposure. The subject of the series this piece is a part of, therefore, is the 10 base digits of the decimal system, derived centuries ago from humans’ 10 fingers. Johns’s series draws renewed attention to the fact that counting, something the mind already knows but overlooks, involves eye, mind, and body. Johns’s basic instructions to himself, penned in a sketchbook—“Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it”— reveal the overarching serial logic of his creative approach. His exploration of numeric figures began in 1955 and grew in intensity until about 1970; it is the motif to which he has returned most often, exploring it in paintings, drawings, sculpture, and prints. Johns has taken advantage of the opportunity offered by printmaking to test multiple options, and pursue different avenues of exploration in his repetitive, measured transformation of the numerical subject. In this piece,one of his last numerical explorations, the number six is almost entirely obstructed by the black scratchings.
-Susan Bonta, Class of 2018