The Courtauld, London

The Courtauld Institute of Art | Somerset House, Strand
WC2R 0RN London

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press release

The Courtauld Gallery presents Regrets, a major new group of works by Jasper Johns, one of the world’s greatest living artists The series was inspired by Johns’ chance encounter with a 1964 photograph of Lucian Freud posing in Francis Bacon’s London studio The drawings and paintings convey Johns’ extraordinary creative process and his ability to transform and recast an image in numerous different ways This exhibition is based upon one originally organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York The series reveals Johns’ profound engagement with the composition and its themes of mortality, memory, and creativity The exhibition will run from 12 September – 14 December 2014 For further images or information, email The Courtauld Gallery presents Jasper Johns: Regrets, a display of new work by the internationally renowned American artist. Now aged 83 and established as one of the world’s most revered living artists, Johns’ reputation was confirmed in the late 1950s when his iconic Flag and Target paintings paved the way for the development of Pop Art. During his career, Johns has created some of the most important and compelling works of modern times.

Jasper Johns: Regrets showcases the artist’s most recent body of work, developed over the last year and a half following his chance encounter with a 1964 photograph of Lucian Freud posing in Francis Bacon’s London studio, reproduced in a Christie’s auction catalogue.

The photograph, taken by John Deakin, shows Freud seated on a cheap brass bedstead, his hands covering his face in an ambiguous gesture of introspection. It was commissioned and used by Francis Bacon as the source material for one of his own paintings – eventually becoming the basis of Study for Self-Portrait, 1964. Johns incorporates not only the subject of the photograph itself, but the physically distressed qualities of the original print, which Bacon had torn, creased and smudged in the course of his studio practice.

The missing sections, tears and folds of the original play a prominent role in Johns’ composition throughout the series. Johns explored and transformed the image in numerous experiments in oil, watercolour, pencil and ink. In the process he mirrored and doubled the original image, and in doing so, the unmistakable form of a skull emerged unexpectedly in the centre of his new composition. This ‘apparition’ creates a reminder of death or memento mori at the heart of the works. Two large paintings and a group of works in ink on plastic are particular highlights of the series and are testament to Johns’ profound engagement with his subject and convey themes of creativity, memory, reflection and mortality.

Most of the works are signed and titled ‘Regrets - Jasper Johns’ – seemingly a reference to their profound and contemplative mood. But this signature and title has a humorous story attached as it derives from a rubber stamp Johns had made some years previously to swiftly decline the stream of requests and invitations that he regularly receives. Such double-edged meanings are typical of Johns’ approach as an artist, asking us to constantly question and doubt what we see in his work.

Johns has consistently but sparingly produced major bodies of work during his long career that are always eagerly anticipated and quickly enter contemporary art discourse. Although Johns continues to be extensively exhibited in museums throughout the United States and elsewhere, he is rarely shown in the United Kingdom. This is a significant opportunity to see one of his most important series of works in recent years.

Dr. Ernst Vegelin, Head of The Courtauld Gallery comments: “Something that particularly inspired us about this group of works is their connection to two of this country’s greatest modern artists, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, making the project especially relevant to The Courtauld Gallery here in London. It will be a unique opportunity for audiences in this country to see this extraordinary body of new works by one of the world’s most influential living artists.”

Dr. Barnaby Wright, Daniel Katz Curator of 20th Century Art at The Courtauld Gallery comments: “I think that Regrets will stand as one of Jasper Johns’ major achievements (and of course there have been many). Only an actual encounter with the works reveals their immense power and subtlety.”