Grey Alphabets (1956) by Jasper Johns

Grey Alphabets - Jasper Johns - 1956

Artwork Information

TitleGrey Alphabets
ArtistJasper Johns
MediumBeeswax and oil on newspaper on Canvas
Dimensions66 1/8 x 48 3/4 in.
Current LocationThe Menil Collection, Houston, Texas

About Grey Alphabets

Grey Alphabets is a pioneering work by American artist Jasper Johns painted in 1956. It marks his first painting to depict the alphabet and the color gray. Johns utilizes a grid format with collaged newspaper substructure to portray alphabets, playing with tension between allover composition and discreet forms.

Johns is known for his exploration of written words’ building blocks, represented in Grey Alphabets’s nuanced shading for each letter within four matrices. Despite extensive study of various movements, Grey Alphabets has not received much scholarly attention. However, it remains an essential piece of art that emphasizes visual language during a time when abstract expressionism dominated the art scene.

Jasper Johns’s decision to use gray color evokes sentiments ranging from dullness and starkness to subtlety and nuance. The Painting challenges our perception of form through abstract contours while encouraging the viewer’s intellectual engagement through deciphering symbols juxtaposed against characteristically grid-like structure.

Overall, Grey Alphabets sets the tone for Johns’s later exploration in symbolism and paved the way for future artists’ interest in written language as subject matter; it is an excellent example of how an artist can push boundaries visually to expand our understanding of both art and language.

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