Ian Talbot: Retrospective – Still Untitled :: Figuring Jasper
Chapter 33 of the ongoing series Ian Talbot : Retrospective by British fine art photographer Ian Talbot.
Still Untitled :: Figuring Jasper
© Ian Talbot
“One of the crucial problems in art is the business of “meaning it”. If you are a painter, meaning the paintings you make; if you are an observer, meaning what you see.” Jasper Johns
The image shown here is “taken”, inspired by, an exploration of (call it what you like; call it “stolen from” if you want to…) the 1972 Johns work “Untitled”. As with my image “Dancers” from the previous post, it’s not an exact copy but a very close resemblance. In fact my treatment more closely resembles prints that Johns executed after the original work; “after” meaning not just in time but “further to”.
It’s important to note that the title of the piece by Johns is not “Untitled” but merely reflects how it is referred to in the catalogue of his work; it quite literally has no title. This is, I believe, a deliberate act on Johns’s part. No mere “affectation”, it is an attempt to close down the possibility of spurious meaning being attached to the piece. The artist himself has never provided any real information about what possible meaning can be drawn from the piece. From the little information he has provided, indeed, one may have good cause to believe there is no meaning; or rather “no meaning” IS the whole point.
The first three panels reflect patterns glimpsed and subsequently used here (and as motifs, extensively in Johns’s work) while driving in New York. Furthermore, in Johns’s own words, chosen SPECIFICALLY because doing so would shut off any possibility of meaning. “Found” imagery used precisely because it was found with no deliberate purpose in mind. The fourth panel is much as I have reconstructed it here except the “objects” Johns used were wax body casts (which the artist has stated he used only because he had used them before in previous works). The glove I have used represents a hand and is a nod to Johns; the other objects, garlic, onion and lemon, because I, myself, had used them before…
So much for the “facts” of the image. You could say that my action in “copying” Johns’s piece would strip it of any intended meaning anyway but if, as I suspect, Johns intended the work to be a “commentary” on “meaning” or, as here, the lack of it then my act of copying would rather ADD meaning instead. My intention is certainly that it should. But if so what meaning? What I have sought to do here is to explore whether INTENTIONAL meaninglessness – once removed too, at that – can in fact remove all and any meaning from being attached to it by the viewer.
Much of what one may term “meaning” in art is most often taken to mean the use of either metaphor, metonymy or synecdoche (see definitions below) but I would contend that for many viewers a more appropriate term would be “allegory”; and, I may add, not any intended allegory on the artist’s part but rather the personal allegories of the viewer.
You may view some of the preceding argument as pedantry or thoughts that merely go round in ever decreasing circles until they disappear into “meaninglessness” but consider this… For my next major project it is necessary that I express with imagery a very precise meaning, even “narrative”. Without an understanding of what or how an image “means” this could become an exercise in futility. If it is, anyway, even possible at all…
* metaphor |ˈmetəˌfôr; -fər| – a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
metonymy |məˈtänəmē| – the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant.
synecdoche |siˈnekdəkē| – a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.
allegory |ˈaləˌgôrē| – a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.