Corpse and Mirror

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns developed a style of coloured crosshatching that emulated the look of traditional shading, a technique he employed from the early 1970s. In the large-scale, technically complex masterwork "Corpse and Mirror", we see a kaleidoscopic array of diagonal colours in primary hues of red, yellow and blue. Resulting from thirty-six different screens, and arranged along a vertical axis, the two sides of the picture plane appear as mirror images of each other. Any attempt to line up the mirrored images is impossible though, as Johns deliberately complicates and distorts the image, to create a carnivalesque hall-of-mirrors. Corpse and Mirror is one of three prints based on Johns’ 1974 painting of the same name; the title of which refers to a drawing game invented by the Surrealists called “exquisite corpse.”

The name is derived from a phrase that resulted when the Surrealists first played the game, "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau." ("The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.") Exquisite Corpse is similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Instead of writing a phrase though, the participants would create a drawing. Surrealism principal founder André Breton reported that it started in fun, but became playful and eventually enriching. It was regularly played by Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, Benjamin Péret, Pierre Reverdy, and Breton.

Jasper Johns (B. 1930)
Corpse and Mirror
Screenprint in colours, on Nishinouchi Kizuki Kozo paper
42 5/8 x 53 in : 108.3 x 134.6 cm
Inscriptions / Edition
From the edition of 65, signed, dated and numbered by the artist lower right, and having the Simca Print Artists blindstamp
Estate of Anne Anka, Los Angeles
Co-published by the artist and Simca Print Artists, Inc., New York
R. Field, The Prints of Jasper Johns 1960-1993, A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1994, no. 169
San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor; Palm Springs, California, Palm Springs Desert Museum, An American Focus: The Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, 7 October 2000-21 March 2001, p. 183, no. 103, pl. 103 (illustrated). San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, Jasper Johns: 45 Years of Master Prints, 15 October 2005-12 February 2006. San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jasper Johns: Seeing with the Mind's Eye, 3 November 2012-3 February 2013, no. 121, pl. 68.
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