I am so psyched for this. I’ve been deep in another writing thing for a while and couldn’t give it the attention I wanted to when it came out. But I wrote a research note for Panorama, the Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, and it is now available. It is the story of my six+ year search to identify all elements Robert Rauschenberg used in Should Love Come First? a collaged painting that, if it still existed, might be considered one of his first combines.
Back in the spring, when, hope against hope, a nearly blind eBay purchase yielded what I thought would be the toughest piece to find, the painted-over text that gave the work its title, I sent a snap to Michael Lobel, an art historian hero and friend who knows his way around early Rauschenberg & Weil. Because I knew he’d freak out just like I did, and he did. And then he said I should publish it in a peer-reviewed academic context, not just on the blog. And that was just intriguing and daunting enough to attempt it. And that’s what I worked on this summer.
My purpose for tracking down and buying copies of all these elements is, of course, to re-create the painting, which Rauschenberg painted over in 1953. (It still exists, in Zurich. I’ve seen it.) But now that I have (almost) all the pieces, I am stymied anew by how much I don’t know about the painting, including/especially the colors. So my re-creation project will take some more time.
But in the mean time, the amount of info that has been coming off the small pieces of paper I *have* found has been amazing. Meeting Susan Weil in the middle of this process (for another topic, and another husband) has been amazing. And getting the chance to systematically look and think and capture information in a (hopefully) clear and compelling way has been amazing. So thanks to Michael and to the folks at Panorama and to the folks at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. I don’t know when love should come, but I love doing this.
The artist Elizabeth “Betty” Stokes di Robilant was interviewed by Christie’s in May 2013. Stokes was a longtime friend of Cy Twombly. Their story and relationship and collaboration, and her later erasure from Twombly’s official story, is discussed in Chalk, a biography of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin, which was published in October 2018. Rivkin quotes the interview by Robert Brown, which was published on the occasion of the sale of a painted bronze cast of a 1966 [or 1956, or 1959, or 1980 or 1981, or 1990] sculpture Twombly gave to dee Robilant for her 10th wedding anniversary. Twombly later reworked and cast the sculpture in 1990 in an edition of five. Di Robilant’s three children each got one; she got one, and Twombly got one. Ed. 1 of 5 was sold at Christie’s London on June 25th, 2013, for GBP 1.63 million.
Though we have emailed several times over the years that I’ve researched her and her first husband’s work, I finally met Susan Weil a couple of weeks ago, and it was awesome. The occasion was the first US show in nearly 40 years of sculpture by her late (second) husband, Bernard Kirschenbaum, which is currently at Postmasters Gallery. Weil discussed Kirschenbaum’s work, and their life together, and her work, and it was great. Our conversation was just published on ARTNews, so go check it out:
[W]e’re used to the idea of calling what he did as sculptural now, because we’ve come through Minimalism, and the artist’s mark, and having things fabricated, but at the time, that was still largely unheard of: that you could order a sculpture. That you could have something fabricated in a shop, and it would be a sculpture. Did he think about that much, or was it not a concern for him?
Well, it wasn’t that way with him, because he wanted to be a part of every step of it. He didn’t order something and then it came. He worked in all the materials, in the actual welding, and finishing, and this, that, and the other. He had to know everything about how things were made. No, he had a beautiful vision.
I’ve always supposed that artists were allowed to paint however-whatever they pleased and to do whatever they please with their work–to or not to give, sell, lend, allow reproduction, rework, destroy, repair, or exhibit it…
He is direct about his work, an area of his life which he jealously guards. Once, at a dinner, a wealthy collector who owned several important Johns paintings announced over coffee that he had an idea for a print that Johns should do. He said that Johns should make a print, in color, of an American map. The collector argued his case cogently. He pointed out that Johns had done other prints in color based on paintings from that period; he alluded to the significance of such a print to the whole body of Johns’ work; he mentioned the opportunities for the sort of image transformation which Johns’ other color prints had explored; and he pointed out the peculiar arbitrariness that had led Johns do to map prints several times in black-and-white, but never in color.
A hush fell over the table. There was a good deal of tension. On the one hand, one doesn’t tell an artist what to do, but on the other hand, the suggestion was not uninformed, and it did not come from a source the artist could casually alienate.
Johns listened patiently. “Well,” he said finally, “that’s all very well, but I”m not going to do it.”
“Why not?” asked the collector, a little offended.
“One night I could not have dreamed that I painted a large American flag, but the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that the artist mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection.
By draining most of the color from the flag but leaving subtle gradations in tone, the artist shifts our attention from the familiarity of the image to the way in which it is made. “White Flag” is painted on three separate panels: the stars, the seven upper stripes to the right of the stars, and the longer stripes below. The artist worked on each panel separately.
After applying a ground of unbleached beeswax, the artist built up the stars, the negative areas around them, and the stripes with applications of collage — cut or torn pieces of newsprint, other papers, and bits of fabric. The artist dipped these into molten beeswax and adhered them to the surface. The artist then joined the three panels and overpainted them with more beeswax mixed with pigments, adding touches of white oil.
cf. Study for White Flag, 2018, Crayola washable marker on coloring page, 8 1/2 x 11 in. (21.6 x 28 cm)
It’s hard to process Ray Johnson’s work, there’s so much of it. It’s intentionally slight and esoteric. It often feels like a quick visual read. But it can also reward a slower look, even when it’s sort of stuffed and strewn about.
The National Gallery has a 1964 piece, Untitled (Letterbox), which is actually a mailbox stuffed with a few years’ worth of correspondance art pieces Ray Johnson sent to the critic David Bourdon. If I remember the label correctly, the stuff was piling up, so Bourdon got a classic brownstone-sized three-unit mailbox to hold it all.
Anyway, I’ve seen but not really looked at it since it was installed way back before the world ended, but the other day I noticed that unlike other pieces, this was not a Jasper Johns exhibition announcement; it was a Jasper Johns.
And not just any Jasper Johns. This is from 0–9 (1960-63), the foundational series with which Johns began making prints, and with which he began his extensive relationship with Tatyana Grossman and Universal Limited Art Editions. [Though other prints were completed and published before 0–9, I think it was the first one he started.] It’s signed and numbered–and folded up and stuffed in an envelope at some point, apparently.
Grosman wooed Johns to start making prints with her fledgling contemporary foundry by sending him a lithography stone to play with. Over years, Johns worked his stenciled numbers on the stone’s surface, printed some, and then wiped and started drawing and printing again. The sequential prints in 0–9 trace the changes and palimpsests of the process, capturing the lithographic process the way Johns’ encaustic froze the mark of the brush that applied it. This ambitious series was published in three versions: a rainbow of colors, black, and grey.
The print Ray Johnson used here is #5 from C/C 1/10, which means it’s from the first edition of the color set. Johnson took this first print of his friend’s massive project, and started circling and labeling individual lines in the print as “snakes.” Then Johnson signed his name and date next to Johns’. And then he folded and taped it up and mailed it to Bourdon.
Snakes were a thing for Johnson. That same year Dick Higgins published a compilation of his correspondance works from Johnson in an artist book he titled The Paper Snake. But this is ultimately less surprising than his readiness to treat an artwork from a friend like a cigarette wrapper or rubber stamp, as an element of his own production. [Of course, Johnson was friends with Rauschenberg and Sue Weil, too, so he certainly knew of Bob incorporating Johns’ and Weil’s paintings into his own combine. And don’t forget Twombly drawing all over everything. So maybe surprising should not be the word.]
The Museum of Modern Art has one of each variation, of course, because back in the day MoMA and ULAE made it so the museum could get the first print from every edition they published. And hey, look at that, MoMA’s print of 0–9 (Color) has the same number as Johnson’s. Did someone mention rogue prints? How’d this happen?
A FEW DAYS LATER UPDATE: Thanks to some attentive folks at the National Gallery, we know how this happened.
Curator Jennifer Roberts explains that the Johnson Johns is not a print, but a page from a Vogue Magazine article on Johns by Harold Rosenberg (“Jasper Johns: Things the Mind Already Knows,” Vogue, February 1, 1964, 174-175.)
Johnson has annotated a paragraph on the reverse (page 175) in pencil, adding half-brackets, three underlined selections, and a notation in the margin that says, “this paragraph could be sent to May Wilson.”
There is nothing commonplace about an 8.
The symbols selected by Johns are separated from the banal by their abstractness and dignity, qualities which are also outstanding in Johns’s personality. In the absence of his big grin, he reminds me of William S. Hart, the deadpan sheriff of the silent Westerns. Johns has Hart’s long, flat poker face, thin lips and alert eyes slanting up at the outer corners. Like Hart he gives the impression of one who sizes things up, keeps mum, and does his job. Johns’s detachment is of the era of the beats, the cool cats, and Bohemian Zen, as Hart’s belonged to that of “Howdy, stranger” and the cardsharp. With his level stare Johns paints targets: Hart perforated his with a six-shooter.
Roberts also notes that Johnson has covered half an illustration of a Johns lightbulb sculpture on the back (p.175) by taping an ad for a George Overbury “Pop” Hart watercolor exhibition held at Frederick Keppel and Co., New York, over it. Thanks to Stephanie, as well as to Anabeth Guthrie and Peter Huestis of the NGA for noticing the mystery and sharing these details.
Hi, are you or do you know Hicri, the 10 year-old or so kid in the picture brushing Jasper Johns’ cat? With the grape-eating monkey in a cage behind you? If so, I’d love to hear your story.
This was October 1971, Johns had his studio at The Bank, as it was called, a sprawling 1912 building at 225 East Houston St, on the corner of Essex. Artist/writer Suzi Gablik took these photos and captioned them in her scrapbook as Hicri & Jap. Gablik’s scrapbooks are now in the Archives of American Art.
It’s possible Hicri’d hang out there while his mother or some other family members worked for Johns; there’s a snapshot of Hicri in Johns’ kitchen corner, surrounded by the preparations for a meal or a party. There’s a photo of Hicri helping Jap carry stuff to a cab, and it’s labeled “Off to St. Maartens.”
Some folks at the AAA had wondered what Johns’ cat’s name was, and I thought Hicri might know. He’d probably be 57-58 by now. (Hicri, that is, not the cat.) Me, I just wonder what it was like hanging around the studio back then; it seems unimaginable, but probably memorable. So Hicri, HMU.
Thanks to grupaok, I’d been looking at Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Minus Objects a lot when my server ran into trouble last December.
Partly because I’ve been long contemplating tables as a platform for paintings, and Pistoletto made a table out of paintings.
Partly because Minus Objects was Pistoletto’s attempt at breaking [or “dismounting”] the capitalist system that rewarded/demanded artists produce in a recognizable style, and all he did was jump off his own market, and confuse his dealers. [Though curator Germano Celant caught on quickly, and made Minus Objects a critical foundation for his proposition of Arte Povera.] Partly because that whole concept is LMAO now that his selfie-friendly mirror paintings have roared back into vogue, anchoring art fair booths around the globe.
But let’s face facts, it’s really because of that awesome, giant, unmounted photo of a slightly demonic Jasper Johns.
It looks very different from our post-Struffsky vantage point, but I’d imagine this object was especially problematic for the art context of its day. Just as tables & chairs and cardboard teetered on the functional and material boundaries around art, respectively, this headshot was thwarting the idea that it was just information.
I decided to be directly transforming a feeling or an idea into an object. Being in that condition, the dream of the night became part of the daily life. Because I was living in the studio, in that place, and the work became part of my life. It was like a living activity.
And I had a dream that I was looking around for cardboard, and was cutting cardboard, it was like a recipe to make a rose, that I had in my dream. And getting up in the morning I decided to realize this recipe that I was dreaming in the night. I find the cardboard in my studio, and I did exactly what was the dream, and the work was done.
At the end of the dream I was giving the fire to the center of the rose, and I did it.
Because I was living the occasion of the moment, and getting up in the morning, the mail arrived. There was an envelope, and inside a catalogue of Jasper Johns, a square catalogue with Jasper Johns, he was smiling. In the morning, I see this face smiling to me, and I say, “OK, I will blow up it.”…I thought this the morning The Smile arrived.
The installation photos show the single, giant photo. And I always thought the cutout version, with The Ears of Jasper Johns came later. But Pistoletto says his idea was to make a 2×2 meter photo of The Smile, and that his printer only had meter-wide paper. The two sections are listed as each 80 cm wide. Everything’s 250cm tall. So there are some rounding issues, maybe, and the single pic is listed as 125 cm wide. Whether there was cropping or reprinting or both, I don’t know.
In any case, I was taken with the idea of tracking down the original photo–I assume it’s in the square catalogue for the 1964 Whitehall Gallery show–and making a giant Smiling Johns myself. But I guess sometimes it’s good to wait? Because in the mean time, the press around the show at The Broad helped surface this photo of Johns:
And oh my gosh, now I want to make 2-meter wide versions of this in an edition of a million and hang them everywhere on earth.
In 1966 photographer Bob Adelman covered the scene around the Leo Castelli Gallery for New York Magazine, but the greatest photos in his deep dive archive are from parties at Robert Rauschenberg’s loft. By 1966 Bob and Jasper Johns were apparently talking to each other again. [Oh hi, Andy!]
Adelman’s captions have some gaps, so though it’s easy to ID Elaine Sturtevant there, huggin’ and grinnin’, with Bob and Jim Rosenquist, the man and woman in the center are still unknown to me. Part of me wants to say Yvonne Rainer, but the hair doesn’t seem right. One not-helpful clue: neither of them made a Warhol screen test.
If you’re ever wondering how hard it is to see something that’s been right in front of your face all along–even if you knew the details and the discrepancies–this entry is from the chronology Joan Young prepared with Susan Davidson for Walter Hopps’ 1997 Robert Rauschenberg retrospective:
With Johns as partner, forms Matson Jones–Custom Display; “Matson” is Rauschenberg’s mother’s maiden name and “Jones” stands for Johns.
10 MINUTES LATER UPDATE: SFMOMA has a new recap of the Matson Jones era from none other than Richard Meyer [Outlaw Representation ftw] . In a 2018 essay about scholarly dismissal of or disdain for their relationship, this sentence makes an unusual effort to say yes, Bob & Jap were “family,” but only distantly related: “’Matson’ was the maiden name of Rauschenberg’s maternal grandmother, and ‘Jones’ is a phonic near cousin to ‘Johns.’” How about homophonic kissing cousins, at least?
Also, I guess after tracking decades of academic and critical avoidance and differentiation, from Alan Solomon onward, I also completely disagree with Meyer’s first sentence: “The intensity of the creative dialogue between Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the 1950s has long been recognized by scholars, critics, and curators.”
But I do look forward to that first two-man show. And don’t get me started with Cy.
The editor of Social Medium: Artists Writing 2000-2015, Jennifer Liese, alerted me to Francesca Balboni’s CAA Review of the anthology, which includes a very nice mention of my Erased de Kooning Drawing posts.
For me, however, the good moments outweighed those that were less than stellar. The biggest revelation was Greg Allen’s idiosyncratically obsessive and meticulously researched blog posts on Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (2011–13). Allen seems to answer Mike Kelley’s assertion to artists in “Artist/Critic?” (2001, another highlight) that “historical writing” can no longer be the project only of the art historian, if we wish to “escape the present limitations of critical discourse” (33). Allen’s blog offers an instructive example of the kind of art histories we might pursue instead. Mariam Ghani’s “The Islands of Evasion: Notes on International Art English” (2013) is as incisive as it is readable, as she summarizes and responds to the heated critical debate around Alix Rule and David Levine’s essay “International Art English.” I also enjoyed many of the selections in “Artists Writing as Art,” especially a bureaucratic love letter to the Liverpool CCTV from Jill Magid’s surveillance performance One Cycle of Memory in the City of L. (2004) and the script for Andrea Fraser’s biting institutional critique Official Welcome (2001).
It is still a sufficiently rare occurrence for me to see such reactions to my work, and it has definitely not gotten old, especially on a rough news day. [Are there any other kind lately?] But it also energizes me to be read as in dialogue with Mike Kelley, and to be discussed in the context of such artists and writers as these folks. I still find Social Medium to be an invigorating read, and am still really grateful to Liese for including me in it.
Once again I am able to take comfort, of a sort, in at least knowing how I am different from Jasper Johns, who, when he once caught a glimpse out the window of a car of a wall painted red and black, did not pull over immediately, and photograph it. We stand on the shoulders of giants in the middle of the street.
It’s an accident of timing that I’ve kept thinking of Derek Jarman as a filmmaker with a painting hobby. He was still alive when I saw my first Jarman film, Edward II, and when Blue blew me away. And I felt I knew his story, so I’ve been slow to read his early autobiography, or other books about him; my job was to just catch up and see all his earlier films. It didn’t help that I didn’t really like the paintings shown after his death. His notebooks were more relevant.
But I just saw this photo which changed all that. I wasn’t 100% wrong, but I was close: Jarman’s painting was more formative and influential-and interesting-than I realized. The photo’s from 1971, and it is captioned in Jarman’s dramatic hand:
“The Skycapes 1971 blue pigment on canvas
destroyed in the fire in 1979”
Skycapes has been a Google dead end, or rather a cul de sac for this caption. But capes, capes is where it’s at. In his 1999 biography of Jarman Tony Peake traced the form and concept of the cape to Jarman’s theatrical work, particularly his ideas for a production of The Tempest:
Capes are both practical and sensual, especially when cloaking nakedness. They are geometric: if hung on the wall, they form a half circle. They have mythic overtones: by donning a cape, the wearer can effect a transformation. These qualities, particularly the latter, had considerable potency for Jarman, who now set about working and reworking this new possibility until the capes he produced-and began to hang on the walls of his studio-no longer resembled design, but approached the condition of painting or sculpture.
Now the timing’s a little confusing, because Jarman made a film version of The Tempest in 1979. But Peake notes the project had interested Jarman for years. And Jarman made a clear, laminated cape scattered with dollar bills [or pound notes, maybe?] for the 1969 production of Peter Tegel’s surrealist play Poet of the Anemones. Peake said the two met at Lisson Gallery.
And the walls of Jarman’s riverside loft were lined with extraordinary capes when filmmaker Ken Russell visited and asked him to design the sets for The Devils, a project that consumed most of Jarman’s waking hours in 1970. Exhausted and dissatisfied by the film project and wary of commercial film industry entanglements, Peake wrote, Jarman “chose to concentrate on his capes, some of which he now began to paint, in two main colours, black and blue, but mainly blue: ‘simple sky pieces to mirror the calm.'”
That quote’s from Jarman’s own 1984 memoir, Queerlife, which was published in the US with the title Dancing Ledge in 1993:
1971. The Oasis
The intervening year was spent painting a series of blue capes, which hung on the walls at Bankside. They were simple sky pieces to mirror the calm that returned after the frenzied year of The Devils. That summer was an idyll, spent sitting lazily on the balcony watching the sun sparkle on the Thames. When I wasn’t painting I worked on the room and slowly transformed it into paradise. I built the greenhouse bedroom, and a flower bed which blossomed with blue Morning Glories and ornamental gourds with big yellow flowers. On Saturdays we gave film shows, where we scrambled Hollywood with the films John du Can brought from the Film Co-op- The Wizard of Oz and A Midsummer Night’s Dream crossed with Structuralism. There were open poetry readings organized by Michael Pinney and his Bettiscombe Press. Peter Logan perfected his mechanical ballet, and MIchael Ginsborg painted large and complicated geometrical abstracts.
An oasis paradise indeed, replete with all the essential elements of Jarman’s subsequent accomplishments. Which is, at least, how he himself saw it when he looked back from 1984.
Here is a 1971 photo by Oberto Gili of Jarman’s amazing Bankside loft, the top floor of a 19th century wheat warehouse. Which had the floors, the ceiling, the views, the space, but not the plumbing or the heat (thus the greenhouse bedroom). There’s the hammock from the first photo, and a laminated cape which had tools, weeds, and detritus retrieved from the abandoned waterfront. [How far do the similarities go between Jarman and other gay pioneer artists like Robert Rauschenberg? Jarman would’ve spit at the comparison; in a 1984 interview at the ICA he slammed Jasper Johns for being a tool of the CIA. #freequeerstudiesdissertationtopics]
Henri Matisse cutout designs for priests’ chasubles for Vence Chapel, 1951, photographed in his studio surrounding a Picasso painting, by Helene Adant. image: tate.org.uk
In Ken Russell’s telling of their first cape-filled visit, Jarman “was getting ready for an exhibition called “Cardinal’s Capes.” It’s a phrase which turns up nowhere else, but which makes me think of Henri Matisse, who designed amazing chasubles for priests to wear in his chapel at Vence. They began as cut-outs, and were translated into fabric, and changed with the seasons.
In 1970-71 Jarman had two solo shows, including capes, at the then-new Lisson Gallery, but he grew to disdain the gallery system. He also hated Pop and bristled at working in the long shadow David Hockney cast over the London art scene. He opened his studio for his own damn show in 1972, which Peake says was disappointing [though he sold some work and celebrities turned up for the opening, so what greater success could art hope for?]
He included new capes made from black lacquered newsprint [Rauschenberg?] in a 1984 mid-career exhibition at the ICA. [He was 42.] And in that public talk, he described funding his early features by selling paintings and raising money from his painting collectors.
Anyway, are there any Jarman capes left to be seen? I can’t find any. In 2015, the ICA screened Jarman’s super8 documentation of his 1984 show for the first time, but there’s no visual trace online. And as the caption to the original photo mentions, his earlier capes, including what he called his Skycapes, were destroyed along with Jarman’s and others’ studios in 1979.
By retrospectively titling them with the sky, and using the term “blue pigment” instead of paint, Jarman also seems to be linking the capes to one of his clearest references, Yves Klein. Klein the outrager who said his first artwork was signing the sky. Whose International Klein Blue appeared throughout Jarman’s notebooks in the 80s. Jarman filmed an IKB monochrome painting and projected a loop of it for a 1987 live poetry/music performance event he called Bliss, which became his last, greatest film, Blue, in 1991-3.
Here is Klein at his wedding on January 21, 1962. Rotraut Uecker is wearing an IKB crown, and he is wearing a cape emblazoned with a Maltese cross. They are processing through the raised swords of the Chevaliers of the Order of St. Sebastian. So at least I know what my dissertation will be about. But first we have to solve the problems that there are almost no Jarman Super-8s online; that Klein’s wedding was filmed, and that’s not around, either. And then, of course, all these destroyed capes. There is a lot of work to do.
Previously, 2013: International Jarman Blue
2004: It’s not just Derek Jarman’s Blue
2002?: As I lay typing
When you go to the Rauschenberg show at MoMA, take your opera glasses.
A question I was never able to figure out was when, exactly, Sturtevant’s Johns Flag took the place of Johns’ Johns Flag after it was stolen in 1965.
When they split, Johns & Rauschenberg made an agreement that Short Circuit, or perhaps Construction with J.J. Flag, as it had also been known, would not be exhibited. Presumably, with Johns’ Flag gone, Rauschenberg felt free to include the work in a collage-themed group show at Finch College in 1967.
He posed with the work [above], holding the cabinet door ajar to obscure the space where Johns’ Flag had been, and in his artist statement, he said, ” Elaine Sturtevant is painting an original flag in the manner of Jasper Johns’ to replace it.” Is painting, present tense.
Did she finish in time? It’s not clear. All published accounts of the exhibition mention the openable doors with paintings behind them-but also that they were nailed shut. So who knows? Sturtevant’s Johns Flag is like Schrodinger’s Cat, both alive and dead, both in there, and not.
detail of Elaine Sturtevant’s Johns Flag in Rauschenberg’s Short Circuit
But. If you take a close look at Short Circuit‘s Sturtevant Johns Flag at MoMA, you might be able to see a legible scrap of newspaper on its surface. Actually, you can see many, but one has a date: Sunday, January 15, 1967. And a typeface that looks like the Times.
Untitled (Unpainted Wall), 2017, brick, concrete, 18 lag shields, exterior latex paint. Installation view, Chevy Chase, Maryland
In his 1977 Whitney catalogue, Michael Crichton wrote about the origin of Jasper Johns’ 1967 painting Harlem Light:
It has a peculiar background. Johns was taking a taxi to the airport, traveling through Harlem, when he passed a small store which had a wall painted to resemble flagstones. He decided it would appear in his next painting. Some weeks later when he began the painting, he asked David Whitney to find the flagstone wall, and photograph it. Whitney returned to say he could not find the wall anywhere. Johns himself then looked for the wall, driving back and forth across Harlem, searching for what he had briefly seen. He never found it, and finally had to conclude that it had been painted over or demolished. Thus he was obliged to re-create the flagstone wall from memory. This distressed him, “What I had hoped to do was an exact copy of the wall. It was red, black, and gray, but I’m sure that it didn’t look like what I did. But I did my best.”
Explaining further, he said: “Whatever I do seems artificial and false, to me. They-whoever painted the wall-had an idea; I doubt that whatever they did had to conform to anything except their own pleasure. I wanted to use that design. The trouble is that when you start to work, you can’t eliminate your own sophistication. If I could have traced it I would have felt secure that I had it right. Because what’s interesting to me is the fact that it isn’t designed, but taken. It’s not mine.” [p. 54-55]
And that, my friends, is how I am different from Jasper Johns: I got the picture.