May 15th, 2009

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Dear Mister Johns...

Happy 79th Birthday

The works of your lifetime have always been, and continue to be, wondrous to me
I can only hope that you have many more productive years ahead of yo

The first picture is Jasper Johns in 1962 or so taken by Hans Namuth
The second is Jasper Johns in 1955 or so taken by Robert Rauschenberg in New York
           This picture came up for auction at the time of the Armory Show a couple of months ago. Just prior, I inquired as to it's price which was $20,000.00. I had to confess that that was just a tad more then I could afford.
The third and fourth are Rauschenberg and Johns in the mid 1950s in their New York lofts
           One lived on the fourth floor while the other lived on the fifth

                And as always, if you click on the pic, they get bigger.

People find their transformative experiences in many different ways and in many different places, in religion, in nature, in books and music. For me, most of mine have been because of art and have taken place in museums and galleries. And more often than not, Jasper Johns's work has been involved in some way. One of my most vivid memories was the very first time I saw his work, not in some book, but live, up-close, and in-person at the Los Angeles County Museum. There were several pieces, all from the mid-late 1950s and early 1960s, and I was in awe, struck silent, positively giddy.

He used a technique called encaustic where pigment was mixed into heated beeswax and applied directly to the canvas. Then when dry, a heat source was used to smooth over the surface. Then another layer of beeswaxed pigment was applied, more heat was used and so on creating laayers of lush pigment. The technique, as used expertly by him, led to the most sensuous surface textures imaginable.

There have been other times, other experiences that have transformed my life as with Moris Louis and Mark Rothko in San Francisco, Hans Hofmann and Robert Rauschenberg in Los Angeles, and Franz Marc in Munich, Brancusi in Paris -- and yes, the Davids in Florence -- but, for me, the work of Johns -- both the first time I saw him in LA and the first time my daughter did the same some thirty years later in San Jose -- live in a kind of heightened state of memory. Crystal clear and pure somehow. Lauren was gleeful when she first saw one of his flag paintings, she was squirming in my arms, she wanted to touch. I know the feeling. I only envy her that she was able to know that feeling when she was four while I had to wait all the way until I was in my late teens.

Thank you Mr. Johns. Thank you for showing me, and so many others, how painting not only could be done, but still can be done even at 79. I owe you.