Analysis of Paintings of Jasper Johns

Categories: Art

The evolution of American art throughout the 20th century was both controversial and revolutionary which brought changes that were not only visually appealing and innovative but also changing the way people perceived art. One of the most prominent artists of this period was Jasper Johns, who attempted and succeeded at experimenting with his innovative style. His art not only plays with visual ideas that have layers of meaning, but also is expressive and analytical; which indeed informs the whole of John’s career and, provocatively, is evident in Land’s End, 1963.

Thus, this paper will be analyzing the themes of the artwork in association with Johns’ relationship to the poet, Hart Crane, as well as discuss the various styles implored within the artwork and their significance to the era. Rondeau’s essay begins by declaring that the colour ‘grey’ represents Johns’ life as a whole, where it is “an attitude and a substance”. As Rondeau so clearly expresses that the artwork Johns’ creates “has an unseen interiority because of the way it was made”, and due to this, it is often the “subject and the source” which creates meaning or connection in his works.

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Through the incorporation of grey in his artworks, Rondeau states that it, illustrates a sense of darkness, of sadness, or in some instances even death; it showcases a loss of control or strength and is it often considered an unemotional. As grey was used as a prominent colour in most of Johns’ artworks, Rondeau describes how using dark-coloured tones with primaries showcases a more “suggestive and ‘device’-driven” approach as seen in Land’s End.

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For instance, Rondeau identifies how the primary colours come “undone” by using stencilled letters and applying them in an upside-down manner which showcases the name of the colour but not its’ actual representation . Rondeau therefore concludes that Land’s End thus pays homage to the poet, Hart Crane, as “a funeral of RED, YELLOW, BLUE – a watery gray grave for colour”, reaching out, from the sea, which is expressed as swirling whirlpool of grays. The next source by Reed reinforces Rondeau’s argument in how the darker-toned artwork, Land End’s depicts Crane’s death and provides a more in-depth analysis on the specific representations leading to his suicide. Reed’s  article assesses the physical characteristics of Land’s End, to Crane’s suicide. For instance, Reed describes the attached ‘paint stick’ on the right upper corner as a resemblance to Diver, in which a “rainbow spectrum” is smeared in a semi-circle; although the overlay of darker hues takes over, hence obscuring the overall section. This technique is evident in many areas of the painting as Johns’ covered the entire canvas in primary and complementary colours and concealed it with darker tones such as gray and black, hence reading as the “predominant” colour of the overall artwork. Reed further analyzes how Land’s End depicts “a strong resemblance” of the description by Phil Horton, of Crane’s suicide as “Crane walked quickly to the stern of the ship and…he vaulted over the rail…a lifeboat was lowered. Some claim they saw an arm raised from above the water”. Reed states that with the “implied narrative…[although] Ambiguous” showcases a subject matter that is represented as the “drowning man” in which the painting also showcases an element of a raised hand reaching out from the bottom left corner of the canvas. Reed therefore, concludes how the painting takes a reflection on Crane’s suicide in which a “communion” between Johns’ and Crane can never occur and, the experience of “death” that Johns’ cannot encounter as long as he is alive. The next source by Yau reinforces Reed’s argument on the relationship of the painting with Crane as well provides an in-depth analysis of the style and representations of the elements within. Yau’s essay analyzes his specific style, medium, and imagery incorporated within Land’s End. For instance, Yau describes Johns’ style in which “combining basic oil paint [with] various devices”, such as the wooden strip for the hand and stenciling for the words, as conserving the evidence of his actions throughout the painting – which is apparent such as, the handprint or smears surrounding the corners of the canvas. Yau further analyzes that the representation of the palm print and the arm in the painting, simultaneously “rise and fall” on the surface of the painting showcasing a “protest [against] the nature of existence” . Due to the ambiguity of the hand it does not reveal in which way to interpret it about Crane – either it could be an act of “submission or defiance,” or in this case, it could be both at once. Lastly, Yau indicates how the arrangement of the canvas correlates to the stencilled words; for instance, the colour names are each located within their horizontal band with “BLUE” situated on the bottom section implying a “landscape” scenario with ‘blue’ like the ocean. In referring to Land’s End, the arm and hand either, rising or sinking from the bottom left of the canvas showcases it coming out from the ocean. Yau therefore concludes that for Johns’ the relationship between the audience and his artwork is “between here and there,” in which it is regarded as joined entities rather than separate. The next source by Karmel juxtaposes Yau’s arguments by interpreting and associating Land’s End to Johns’ previous works of art than to Crane’s suicide. Karmel’s essay assesses various artworks of his, from the 1960s to present and the unique painting styles employed in each. In contrast to the other sources, Karmel states that by relating it to Crane’s suicide it is often “ignored or reinterpreted” of what consists on the canvas; he further emphasizes that the use of certain elements and imagery relate more to his previous artworks than with Crane. In contrast to Yau, Karmel describes the three horizontal sections of the painting with stencilled names of the colours, “RED”, “YELLOW” and “BLUE’ associate to Out of Window in which the “divided zones” do not correlate to the names inscribed. Another element – the semi-circle on the right upper corner of the canvas – resembles as Karmel interprets a “setting sun” which is evident in the Device series of his artwork; as well as the “arm”, with an imprint of the palm, which Karmel associates to the “stretcher bar” represented in the “grey version” of Device. Although, it is important to note that Karmel does not associate the “hand” to Hart Crane, rather refers it to Jackson Pollock’s artwork, Number 1, 1948, in which handprints are evident within and surrounding the painting. Karmel emphasizes that references of Land’s End to Crane are essential, although should not reinterpret the artist’s imagery of the painting; rather the elements of the handprint or stencilling of the words in relation to the colours, states the presence of the artist as a “homo faber”. Karmel therefore concludes that the Crane reference is in fact “an allegory for the turmoil in Johns’ life” during the early 1960s, although his identity, within Land’s End, as an artist remains “secured”. In conclusion, after analyzing and reviewing the four sources on John’s, Land’s End, it is evident that many associations to elements of the painting relate to Hart Crane’s death. Furthermore, Johns’ denies intentionality. He resists fixed interpretations, preferring the type of uncertainness that leaves his work open to new readings.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Analysis of Paintings of Jasper Johns. (2021, Aug 03). Retrieved from

Analysis of Paintings of Jasper Johns essay
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