why is the style of target with four faces
One image that does not make it into the above-mentioned summations of 1964 and 1965 is Painting Bitten by a Man (1961), where the hint of a penis form, sliced vertically, slightly protrudes from the undulating surface of the light-brown monochrome painting. This timidly pornographic image (assuming that the word painting in Painting Bitten by a Man is a censored version of the depicted image), comes from the collection of the artist, and has rarely been seen before. Yet this raunchy painting is an exemplary case of Johns’ strategy of simultaneous concealment and display, perhaps more obvious than most. Its presentation in the D.C. show suggests that Johns has now overcome the self-censorship that kept this particular painting out of view and his own hang-ups under wrap
Not only does the Flag painting produce in the viewer the same questioning as Magritte’ This Is Not a Pipe, it also assumes a definition of metaphor which. . . is much closer to Freud’s understanding of metaphor than the Surrealists’ definition. . . . The wit in Johns’ Flag image lies in the subtle displacement of his image vis-á-vis a more clichйd way of thinking of flags. In the painting the flag is taut and hard instead of limply hanging from the end of a stick.
Johns’ targets ideas suggested by the early flags, but more abstractly. An American flag is always the same while a target can be any number of things – all that unites targets is a common format of concentric circles. A flag is bound to one nations; a target is universal. The colors of the flag are fixed; in the target, they need only be contrasting.
The image of the target emerges in Johns work in 1955, in paintings that incorporate frieze like arrangements of plaster casts taken from parts of the body. Target with Four Faces is one of the serie paintings and drawings of the target image from 1958 to 1961. Each of these Target paintings by Johns features a depiction of an actual target that is, for all practical purposes, utterly interchangeable with the real thing. Yet unlike the flag or the number, which are also familiar images from this period of the artist’s career, the flat target is simultaneously representational and abstract (a number or a flag can never be divorced from its status as a familiar sign). This makes the target susceptible to other ambiguities. Targets imply, or are instruments of, seeing across space (and seeing as an act of potential violence). But the optical nature of the concentric bands can also be understood to figure distraction rather than focus, something that is also suggested by the mechanical action of a rotating compass by which the image of a target is produced.
This is a time when Abstract Expressionism was the dominant force in the art world. These artists shared the conviction that art is inextricably tied to the artist’s subjective experience. And they made work that could capture the individual essence of the artist through the gestures he or she makes in paint on the canvas. So if you think of it in that kind of context, Johns is pointing in a totally new direction, both in terms of the subject but also in terms of technique.
If you look closely at the Target, you can see the newsprint that he used to collage on the canvas as a bottom layer. The method of wax encaustic allowed him to really build up a tactile surface that reveals the slow and measured process by which the work was made.
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In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.
“Target with Four Faces” is the first time the artist presented a broken representation of the human physique, as well as the first time he introduced the motif of sightlessness (a face with covered eyes) into his work. The monotypes of the American soldier are the most recent representations of someone who is covering his eyes and cannot see.
In the upper right-hand corner of the target in “Target with Four Faces,” the artist has collaged a newspaper headline and part of the accompanying article. The headline and article are aligned with the target’s top and right edge. He has painted over the collage with red encaustic, but the pigment embedded in the translucent wax does not obscure the headline’s large type: “History and Biography,” which is easily read. Whose history and biography?