Jasper Johns, “Cup 2 Picasso,” 1973

One reason that it’s important to have a campus museum is that it gives students the opportunity to study individual works of art in depth and in person. Students in my “History of 20th Century Art” course have the opportunity to write their final paper about an object from our collection—an experience that combines close looking with substantial scholarly research. The following essay is a condensed excerpt of a research paper by OSU student Nalee Thao.

Jasper Johns was an exceptional contemporary American artist of the 20th century. Johns is mostly known for his paintings such as his flags, crosshatchings, targets, and numbers. Johns made the print Cup 2 Picasso in 1973. It is a lithograph of a face-cup. Johns “has always sought ideas that affect the viewer in more than one way” in an ironic approach (Francis 8). He provides a sense of illusionist space in Cup 2 Picasso where the two mirror profiles create the space in the middle as a chalice cup. It is a great example of figure-ground reversal, where the viewers sees either a goblet or pair of silhouetted faces. Significantly the side profiles in this print are of a special and particular person that Johns has chosen to use.

Jasper Johns, "Cup 2 Picasso," 1973. Color lithograph, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, Gift of William Goldston, BFA '66.

The profile figure is a portrait of a famous artist who influenced Johns to become a great artist. The artist is none other than Picasso himself.  In his article, “Two Master Printmakers in the Shadow of Picasso,” Christopher Lyon argues that Johns became quite a great printmaker in part through his respect for Picasso. When Picasso had passed away in 1973, Johns created the lithograph, Cup 2 Picasso, in commemoration. “A number of artists, including Johns, had been invited to contribute prints to an album honoring Picasso” (Lyon 8). The main idea and concept of this special print was “to make a chalice or toasting cup honoring Picasso out of facing profiles of the artist” (Lyon 9). The profiles of Picasso originally came from a photographic portrait of him, which Johns traced over to get the image for Cup 2 Picasso. Johns flipped the profile to get both the left-side and right-side profile of mirror images facing each other to make the cup (Castleman 48).

Even though Cup 2 Picasso was in honor of Picasso, the reference idea came from another artist that also influenced Johns. Marcel Duchamp was known to have influenced Johns in terms of conceptual art (Bernstein 59). The reference came from Duchamp’s Self-Portrait which had a black profile of his face and was made in 1958. The concept initially came from the idea of a “shadow cast” that has been traced onto a piece of paper (Bernstein 120). References and influences from Duchamp were not limited to Cup 2 Picasso. There have been countless other art works that Jasper Johns has taken into consideration as inspiration and motivation to do his pieces from studying Duchamp’s other art works.

The title for Cup 2 Picasso was influenced from another artist. It originally came from John Frederick Peto who was an American trompe l’oeil painter. Jasper Johns made a lithograph in 1961 with the same title as Peto and it was called The Cup We All Race 4 (Rose 59). Therefore the title Cup 2 Picasso derived from that title and Johns substituted the profile of Duchamp in his Self-Portrait for the profile of Picasso, which “Johns both proposes a symbolic toast and identifies the artist he would now race against” (Rose 59).

Nalee Thao is a senior graduating from the Art Department’s Graphic Design program. She was a student in ART 3683: History of 20th Century Art in the fall of 2009.

Works Cited:

Bernstein, Roberta. Jasper Johns’ Paintings and Sculptures 1954-1974: The Changing Focus of the Eye.” Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985.

Castleman, Riva. Jasper Johns: A Print Retrospective. New York: Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1986.

Francis, Richard. Jasper Johns. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984.

Lyon, Christopher. “Two Master Printmakers in the Shadow of Picasso.” MoMA, No. 7. Spring, 1991: 8-13 & 23.

Rose, Barbara. “Jasper Johns: The Tantric Details.” American Art, Vol. 7, No. 4. Autumn, 1993: 47-71.

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About osucurator

I am Louise Siddons, Assistant Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art.
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