Johns and Gormley Meet on Paper

(left) Jasper Johns, Flags II, 1970. Lithograph with stamp, 33 1/2 x 25 in. John and Maxine Belger Family Foundation. Art © Jasper Johns and ULAE / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. (right) Antony Gormley, Mansion, 1982. Black pigment, oil, charcoal on paper, 33.07 x 23.62 in. Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, New York. © Antony Gormley

What do artists Jasper Johns and Antony Gormley have in common? Not nationality – Johns was born in Georgia, grew up in South Carolina, and moved to New York City as fast as he could; Gormley was born in London and educated first at Cambridge then in travels throughout India and Sri Lanka. Not artistic style – Johns is associated with iconic symbols like the American flag, targets, and numbers; Gormley brings to mind life-sized bronze sculptures of the human body invading public space on street corners, rooftops, and seashores. Not professional circle – Johns formed tight bonds in the New York artistic community beginning in the ’50s with composer John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and artist Robert Rauschenberg; Gormley has yet to be grouped with a particular circle or movement, though he does come from a large family and is reportedly close to his siblings.

This summer, these two very different artists will find their work cohabiting at 21st and Q Streets. Each show is the artist’s first at the Phillips, highlights work on paper, and is on view June 2 through September 9, 2012. They will fill separate areas of the museum, but the Phillips is small enough that visitors will likely experience the exhibitions one after the other. Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme follows the artist’s printmaking over more than five decades, from experiments in lithography and intaglio to silkscreen and lead relief. Antony Gormley: Drawing Space introduces the artist’s drawings, which he often makes at night using odd materials like burnt chicory, prickly pear cactus juice, earth, and blood. In the Phillips spirit of conversation across time and place, it will be curious to discover what Johns and Gormley can teach us about each other, simply through their differences.

Hodgkin and Holi: An Unmistakable Connection

This work from the collection of the Freer Sackler Galleries illustrates the tradition of Holi. A Holi festival. 19th century. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. H: 28.9 W: 19.2 cm India. Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1907.25.

As I was giving a recent tour of Howard Hodgkin’s monumental prints As Time Goes By, a docent at the Freer Sackler Galleries pointed out the possible relationship between the prints, which are characterized by exuberant areas of intense color that appear to be thrown onto the surface, and the holiday of Holi, the festival of colors, which takes place throughout India and other South Asian countries in early spring. Holi was originally celebrated by farming communities as a ritual expression of hope for a good harvest and a collective rejoicing in the spring.

Holi is also thought to have had various mythological beginnings whose narratives usually have a moral. One originates in the boyhood of Krishna, considered one of the most human of the gods. When Krishna was playing with Radha, a girl in his village, he noticed that her skin was fair and his was dark. When he complained to his mother, she suggested that he throw color on Radha’s face so that the difference could be erased.

During Holi, participants, who dress in white, throw colored pigment and water on each other. According to the myth, people do so with the aim of erasing differences of color, creed and religion, hoping to create a truly equal society. Hodgkin has traveled extensively in India and collects Indian art.

Watch the videos below for a glimpse of the modern celebration of Holi.

Karen Schneider, Librarian