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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

American, born 1930
Watercolor, graphite, and crayon on paper

43 x 28 3/4 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund

Arts of North America

Essentially self-taught, Jasper Johns is one of the artists credited with making recognizable imagery acceptable as subject matter in American painting after the dominance of Abstract Impressionism.

Throughout his career, Johns has worked through many cycles of imagery, eschewing a linear progression in favor of reexamining motifs. This watercolor revisits three of the artist's paintings, all titled Cicada and all created by Johns during his crosshatch period. From 1972 to 1982, he worked in a linear style that he derived from a car decorated with clusters of non-intersecting parallel lines. This Cicada watercolor is the only known instance of Johns combining a finished drawing that reexamines an image he originally executed in oil with notebook-like drawings normally created as a private activity and not meant for public display. Sketches of the cicada insect--the namesake of these works and a symbol of metamorphosis--appear at the bottom of the drawing along with other symbols of regeneration. In addition, this work is historically important because it marks the first time Johns explored the Tantric imagery that would soon become a significant component of his work.