Target with Four Faces
Encaustic and collage on canvas with plaster casts
29 3/4 x 26 x 3 3/4 in. (75.5 x 71 x 9.7 cm.)
From "Techniques of the Great Masters of Art":
"Target with Four Faces is from 1955, a highly productive year, and, as an earlier work, lacks the more sweeping brushwork and dramatically amplified addition of objects that Johns was to develop later. The subject of the target, an example of a favorite visual cliche, he has said, 'seemed to me to occupy a certain kind of relationship to seeing the way we see and to things in the world which we see... have clearly defined areas which could be measured and transferred to canvas.'
"The use of encaustic here emphasizes the flatness and banality of the familiar subject while also, on closer examination, revealing (literally) hidden depths, visible layers which help to individualize this particular version. The encaustic technique involves mixing pigment with molten beeswax or resin; at which stage Johns added fragments of newspaper and fabric, applying the mixture and then drying it under a radiant heat, thus fusing the elements together. The immediate advantage was that of speed; the solution dried quickly and another layer could be added. There is, too, a degree of translucency which enables the viewer to see directly the various stages of work and the additional interest of collage elements embedded within the medium. As a glutinous medium encaustic is best applied with the palette knife and this gave Johns the opportunity to produce the heavy impastos which he so enjoys.
"The use of plaster casts is an example of another favorite medium of the time: here they are taken from the same model, though carefully rearranged to avoid the impression of a sequence that had been inadvertently produced by the steady relaxation of the model's jaw throughout the casting, thus avoiding the impression of a mouth opening to speak. The wooden structure in which the casts are contained, despite its slightly sinister regimentation, provides another sort of the compartmentalization that Johns frequently employs."