Jasper Johns - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, April 18, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “…the tendency in printmaking is to think in discrete operations and discrete objects… This whole idea that anything can be one thing is an idea that interests me. I like the idea of taking these discrete operations and using them in such a way that doubt is cast upon them, and one is not sure what to regard as a discrete thing.” —Jasper Johns.

    In casting a shoe, lightbulb, toothbrush, flag, and piece of bread, Jasper Johns’ Lead Relief series embodies the artist’s life-long interest in de-familiarizing symbols of American culture. Published by Gemini G.E.L. Los Angeles in 1969, these objects were meticulously embossed into thin sheets of lead and mounted to polystyrene backing. This innovative technique displays Johns’ experimental approach print technologies and his desire to push the boundaries of this medium through the deployment of unexpected materials and non-traditional subject matter. A playful assembly of unlikely objects, each of the five impressions contains imagery that Johns revisits throughout his practice in a multitude of material investigations.


    This remarkable series also illuminates the influence of Marcel Duchamp on John's creative approach. Reminiscent of the Dadaist’s ready-mades, these leaden articles conjure new meanings and possibilities, charting new trajectories for mundane objects of the commercial realm. The humble household items become newly contextualized, and the framed, visually ambiguous metal surface takes on a monumental quality. Johns invites us to observe the play between image and medium, the dialectic between materiality and conceptual identification. These works subsequently reflect an intergenerational conversation between two great artists of the 20th century and further shaped the legacy of the American avant-garde. Having their own dedicated solo show in 1969 at Leo Castelli Gallery, this series continued to impact the New York art scene.


     Jasper Johns (Right) with Ron Adams, assembling the edition of Bread, 1969. Image: © Malcolm Lubliner Photography


    In layering material elements to contrast the oxidized monochromatic metal, new symbolic clues are scattered throughout the series. With Bread, Johns spotlights the classic American slice by realistically hand-painting the impression. His meticulous treatment of such a banal subject brings a sense of humor to the work and counterbalances the weighted, spatial properties of the lead. In The Critic Smiles, Johns again employs wit, mounting an embossed toothbrush with gold-crowned teeth in substitution for bristles. The work acts as a satirical response to harsh reviewers, pushing back against what he described as the “police function” of the critic in society and the type of “lopsided smile with hidden meanings” that he associated with such figures. With High School Days, we enter Johns’ lead world directly and join the composition via a small mirror he places, at the center of the canvas, on the tip of the shoe. We become both object and viewer simultaneously, called upon to reflect not only on the world around us but also on ourselves, our own positionality within this complex investigation of utility, aesthetics, and perception.  In Flag Johns presents one of his most famous symbols, first explored in 1954-55 soon after Johns was discharged from the US army. Devoid of all color, the lead highlights the textured details of the stars and stripes, focusing attention on its materiality and surface. Light Bulb is also an image found elsewhere in Johns’ printmaking practice, initially found in a 1965 lithograph poster. This is the series’ most texturally varied work, as the cord seemingly defies the hard metallic surface in its delicate twisting curves. Furthermore, the subtle sheen of the surface patina creates a subtle glow, counter to the lightbulb’s usual associations as a source of artificial light. Thus, Johns is again playing with familiar expectations, reflexively engaging with the very act of perception and sight.

    • Provenance

      Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2002

    • Literature

      Gemini G.E.L. 129-133
      Universal Limited Art Editions 72-76

    • Artist Biography

      Jasper Johns

      American • 1930

      Jasper Johns is a painter and printmaker who holds a foundational place in twentieth century art history. Quoting the evocative gestural brushstroke of the Abstract Expressionists, Johns represented common objects such as flags, targets, masks, maps and numbers: He sought to explore things "seen and not looked at, not examined" in pictorial form.  Drawing from common commercial and 'readymade' objects, such as newspaper clippings, Ballantine Ale and Savarin Coffee cans, Johns was a bridge to Pop, Dada and Conceptual art movements.

      Beyond the historical significance, each work by Johns is individually considered in sensuous form. A curiosity of medium led him to employ a range of materials from encaustic and commercial house paint to lithography, intaglio and lead relief.

      View More Works

Property from a Private Collection


High School Days, The Critic Smiles, Flag, Light Bulb, and Bread, from Lead Reliefs (G. 129-133; ULAE 72-76)

The complete set of five lead reliefs with polystyrene and wood backing, one with an inset mirror, one with rag paper hand-painted in oil by the artist, and one with tin leaf and gold plating, all in the original publisher's welded aluminum frames.
High School Days 23 1/4 x 17 3/8 in. (59.1 x 44.1 cm)
The Critic Smiles 23 1/4 x 17 3/8 in. (59.1 x 44.1 cm)
Flag 17 3/8 x 23 1/4 in. (44.1 x 59.1 cm)
Light Bulb 39 1/4 x 17 3/8 in. (99.7 x 44.1 cm)
Bread 23 1/4 x 17 3/8 in. (59.1 x 44.1 cm)

All signed and numbered 'A.P. V' by the artist with an electric steel stylus (one of 10 artist's proofs, the edition was 60), published by Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles (with their stamp), all framed.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $355,600

Contact Specialist

212 940 1220


Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 18 - 20 April 2023