Jasper Johns greatly respected Motherwell and also experimented in abstract expression, but they were two very different artists. Though Johns dabbled in abstract expressionism, he became more of a forerunner of pop art, but cannot be placed in any one artistic movement. Unlike Motherwell, Johns does not express many emotions in his art. Rather, he focuses more on the material he uses. In fact, Johns is known as one of the greatest print makers. It is very important to him that his print looks beautiful and rich. He likes to experiment with numbers, letters, light and dark images, and positive and negative spaces.
Although Johns does not portray many emotions in his art, he collaborated in 1976 with Irish-born poet and playwright Samuel Beckett, who often addressed themes like death. Beckett wrote five essays to go along with a collection of Johns’ prints, but was told they were to do nothing with Johns’ imagery. Johns is still alive today at the age of 80 and has continued to create art.
This is fascinating exhibition focused on Motherwell and Johns highlights some of the more unique modern art of the late twentieth century. The exhibition can be seen at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum until Dec. 23.
On Friday, Sept. 10, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) brought Reilly Rhodes, director and chief curator of Contemporary and Modern Print Exhibitions in Laguna Niguel, Calif., to discuss his expertise of the CFAM’s featured exhibit on Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns, influential artists of the twentieth century.
Robert Motherwell was born in 1915 and became one of the leaders of the American abstract expressionism movement. Motherwell is a true intellectual who studied philosophy at Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia. He was heavily inspired by poetry and was successful in translating poetry to art. One of his biggest influences was the Spanish poet Rafael Alberti and his poem “El Negro Motherwell,” which he dedicated to Motherwell. Although an American citizen, the Spanish Civil War made a huge impact on Motherwell’s art. Motherwell was deeply concerned with humanity, and the bloody and destructive Spanish Civil War disturbed him. He famously once said, “the future isn’t what it used to be.” He created a series of artworks called “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” that has been referred to as Motherwell’s “Guernica.” Most of these works use lots of black and dark colors. The Mexican culture and its fascination with death also inspired Motherwell to use emotions like grief throughout his work.