A Response to Jasper John’s Regrets: An Exhibition of Recent Works at the Museum of Modern Art

“Things the Mind Already Knows”

By Jacob Hicks

Artist Jasper Johns
Artist Jasper Johns

Brevity is sustaining, resonant, and impartial-like the flash and shutter snap of a camera.  A slick sticky flash lit long ago, and there was captured (for all of us now) an image of Lucian Freud-grandson of Sigmund-with his head in his hand in a state of desperation on a bed-like Robert Raushenberg’s canonical assemblage.

Photo of Lucian Freud used as inspiration for John's current body of work
Photo of Lucian Freud used as inspiration for John’s current body of work.

Jasper Johns found this photo and began the practice of his artistic dictum: “Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that,” as some solemn inspiration claimed him, a memento mori muse, the alpha-numeric clock counting 1, 2, 3, 4.

1. Rauschenberg is recently dead, and was Johns’ lover. 2. Lucian Freud is recently dead. 3. The photograph that inspired Johns’ current series was owned by Francis Bacon, whose friendship with Freud parallels the working relationship between Johns and Rauschenberg.

Steeped in brief regret, Jasper Johns would mark, with a custom-made rubber stamp (I imagine onto the bottom third of a folded 8 by 11 inch letter), a bold decline in red to invitation or call for autograph; there he is smiling and frowning at the brevity of the gesture.  He says he didn’t use the stamp much.  “Regrets,” stamped in red.

Poetry by Glenda-Lindsey Hicks

Jasper Johns, Untitled, 2013. Ink on plastic, 27 1/2 × 36"
Jasper Johns, Untitled, 2013. Ink on plastic, 27 1/2 × 36″



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