Behind the Scenes: The Making of Jasper Johns’s A.i.A. Print Project


You may have always assumed that a Jasper Johns print was out of your price range. After all, a 1969 set of prints showing the numerals 0 through 9 brought $485,000 last month at Christie’s New York. But you can have your own Johns work by picking up an $11 copy of A.i.A.‘s May issue, which includes an offset lithograph by the artist. It’s the first time Johns has collaborated with a magazine since 1973.

Produced with print publisher Bill Goldston of Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) of Bay Shore, Long Island, the print contains classic Johnsian imagery—the numbers 0-9, a map of the United States and the alphabet in American Sign Language. Johns created the print at the invitation of A.i.A. and curatorial consultant Sharon Coplan Hurowitz.

Hurowitz and Goldston spoke by phone with A.i.A. last week about the project.

BRIAN BOUCHER Can you tell us a little about how you went from proposal to finished print?

BILL GOLDSTON Jasper had an idea, I think from the beginning, of what he wanted to do. A lot of it was predicated on the dimensions of the magazine. He thought the best thing would be to do a drawing on frosted Mylar, a process he’s familiar with. He gave me the image and I scanned it, converted that digital file to a digital print, and showed him a proof. He asked if it could be printed on different kinds of paper. A local offset printer I work with, Official Offset in Amityville, N.Y., provided me with samples. We discovered quite by accident that Jasper was working with an old magazine size, and the magazine is now larger. So he drew a line of numbers at the top to satisfy the difference in the proportions of the page. I scanned that and added it, so the image had three different layers: The first layer was the map and the Sign Language alphabet. Then there was the addition of the numbers across the top. Finally, he signed a small piece of Mylar and I dropped that into the file. It didn’t exist as a composed image in any other way than digital.

BOUCHER What are the qualities of the paper that persuaded Johns to use this particular stock?

GOLDSTON When the image is lying in the book you can see through the paper and see what’s under it. Johns thought that might prove to be an interesting first glance.

SHARON COPLAN HUROWITZ Offset printing also allows for a more transparent kind of inking. Was that the reason for using offset, Bill, or was the choice based on the fact that we would be printing a large run?

GOLDSTON All these are factors. The key is that you’re working with an artist who has an idea, and whatever technique you choose, it has to reflect that idea. I just provide what he wants to see.

BOUCHER How did you arrive at the folded format? One could have done something smaller and avoided the fold.

HUROWITZ A.i.A. first commissioned artists to do prints in the 1970s, and we sent Jasper some samples. The majority had a gatefold, and my understanding is that he wanted to honor that aspect of the original project.

Bill, I know that once Johns takes on something new he often really embraces it. Might this lead to more projects using new technological means?

GOLDSTON I would love it if it did. I gave him an iPad as a gift. Then I gave him one with drawing software on it. For a man who’s over 80 years old, it’s pretty adventurous to take up an iPad and start drawing. It’s my responsibility to give him the opportunity to explore anything he wants to explore. If he wants something from it, he’ll figure out how to use it. I’m always making these suggestions, hoping something we do will be a new adventure for him. That’s really the goal.