A header graphic with the following information: Jasper Johns,  White Alphabets, 1968. Oil and collage on canvas. 50 3/4 x 34 inches. 128.9 x 86.4 cm.
“Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. [Repeat.]”
 

—Jasper Johns, sketchbook note, 1964

An oil and collage on canvas artwork by Jasper Johns, titled White Alphabets, dated 1968.

Jasper Johns

White Alphabets, 1968
Oil and collage on canvas
50 3/4 x 34 inches (128.9 x 86.4 cm)
Framed: 56 3/8 x 39 5/8 inches (143.2 x 100.7 cm)

Widely regarded as America’s foremost living artist and a revered figure in the development of Pop Art, Jasper Johns (b. 1930) is known for his innovative appropriation of everyday images and objects in paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Breaking away from the prevailing subjectivity of Abstract Expressionism, Johns’s distinctive adherence to recognizable images and symbols including flags, targets, maps, numbers, and letters proposed a way forward for American art in the 1950s.

A photo of Jasper Johns (right) with Leo Castelli and his wife in the Castelli's home, New York City, 1966. One of Johns's flag paintings hangs over the fireplace in the background. Photo by Sam Falk.

Jasper Johns (right) with Leo Castelli and his wife in the Castelli's home, New York City, 1966. One of Johns's flag paintings hangs over the fireplace in the background. Photo by Sam Falk/New York Times Co./Getty Images

Jasper Johns (right) with Leo Castelli and his wife in the Castelli's home, New York City, 1966. One of Johns's flag paintings hangs over the fireplace in the background. Photo by Sam Falk/New York Times Co./Getty Images

White Alphabets is one of six Alphabet paintings dating from the 1950s and 1960s, when Johns was among the emerging artists working with Leo Castelli’s influential gallery in New York. This striking work closely follows Gray Alphabets, the first painting by the artist to utilize a sequential ordering system as its generative structure. Johns’s choice of the alphabet builds on the conceptual logic of the Flag and Target paintings—in the artist’s words, “things the mind already knows”—demonstrating his unique empiricism and attention to form as a means of transformation.

An artwork by Jasper Johns, titled White Flag, dated 1955. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Jasper Johns, White Flag, 1955. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jasper Johns, White Flag, 1955. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

An artwork by Jasper Johns, titled Target with Four Faces, dated 1955. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces, 1955. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY 

 

Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces, 1955. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY 

 

 A painting by Jasper Johns, titled Numbers, dated 1963. Philadelphia Museum of Art. © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jasper Johns, Numbers, 1963. Philadelphia Museum of Art. © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jasper Johns, Numbers, 1963. Philadelphia Museum of Art. © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“His Alphabets (and, shortly thereafter, his numbers) present complete, ordered systems,” Roberta Bernstein writes. “In these works, the artist also adopted the uniform allover design of the grid, a framework that has neither intrinsic focus nor hierarchy and in which the figure-ground differential all but disappears. Johns was one of the first of his generation of American painters to use the modular grid to structure the surface.”

An artwork by Jasper Johns, titled Gray Alphabets, dated 1956. The Menil Collection, Houston

Jasper Johns, Gray Alphabets, 1956. The Menil Collection, Houston

Jasper Johns, Gray Alphabets, 1956. The Menil Collection, Houston

“What Johns did was he presented a new model.”
 

—Richard Serra

An artwork by Robert Ryman, called Untitled A, dated 1965

Robert Ryman, Untitled A, 1965. Centre national des arts plastiques, Paris

Robert Ryman, Untitled A, 1965. Centre national des arts plastiques, Paris

A work by carl Andre, titled 144 Magnesium Squares, dated 1969.

Carl Andre, 144 Magnesium Squares, 1969. © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY 

Carl Andre, 144 Magnesium Squares, 1969. © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY 

A work by Sol LeWitt, titled Wall Drawing #1085: Drawing Series—Composite, Part I-IV, #1-24, A+B , dated 1968.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1211: Drawing Series—Composite, Part I—IV, #1—24, A+B, 1968/2006. Estate of Sol LeWitt. © The LeWitt Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, New York, courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1211: Drawing Series—Composite, Part I—IV, #1—24, A+B, 1968/2006. Estate of Sol LeWitt. © The LeWitt Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, New York, courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York

Johns worked at the vanguard of material, conceptual, and visual practices, engaging with the monochrome, seriality, deductive structures, semiotics, and a variety of other generative formats and approaches to art that would come to define the practices of artists such as Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, and Robert Ryman.

“In Johns's work, the 'internal frame' rules absolutely wherever the image depicted—flag, target, alphabet, book, canvas, or shade—remains self-sufficient.... You can't smoke Magritte's painted pipe, but you could throw a dart at a Johns target, or use his painted alphabets for testing myopia.”
 

—Leo Steinberg

A composite of  two Related works by Jasper Johns, titled L-R: Gray Alphabets, 1968. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Alphabets, dated 1960-1962. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Related works by Jasper Johns, L-R: Gray Alphabets, 1968. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Alphabets, 1960-1962. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Related works by Jasper Johns, L-R: Gray Alphabets, 1968. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Alphabets, 1960-1962. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Like his first Alphabet painting, these works are divided into a grid of twenty-seven by twenty-seven units, whose dimensions are determined by the size of the letter stamps he used to create them. Johns used collage to create the letters, stamping them in black before obscuring them with white paint. In the present work and one of the other two related paintings, the letters appear backwards, alluding to the process of print production in which movable type is reversed so that the orientation of the letters appears correct when printed.

A photo of Jasper  Johns reworking the stone for Figure 1, dated 1968.

White Alphabets is one of three closely related Alphabet paintings that Johns made in 1968 while working on the editioned print Gray Alphabets at the Gemini G.E.L. print workshop in Los Angeles. Here, Johns is pictured reworking the stone for Figure 1, 1968. Image courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. 

White Alphabets is one of three closely related Alphabet paintings that Johns made in 1968 while working on the editioned print Gray Alphabets at the Gemini G.E.L. print workshop in Los Angeles. Here, Johns is pictured reworking the stone for Figure 1, 1968. Image courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. 

“Johns puts two flinty things in a picture and makes them work against one another so hard that the mind is sparked. Seeing them becomes thinking.”
 

—Leo Steinberg

An installation view of a painting by Jasper Johns, titled White Alphabets, dated 1968.
 
 

Inquire about Works by Jasper Johns

    Read More Read Less

      Read More Read Less

          Inquire

          To learn more about this artwork, please provide your contact information.

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.
          This site is also protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

          Inquire

          To learn more about available works, please provide your contact information

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.This site is also
          protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.