Jasper Johns

0 through 9


Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1372 x 1048 mm
frame: 1401 x 1078 x 48 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961

Display caption

In the 1950s, Johns began using flags, targets and numbers as the basis of his paintings. These were ordinary familiar things, but also had an iconic, emblematic quality. This work is one of a series that he undertook in the summer of 1960, using the superimposed numbers 0 to 9. Johns let the process of painting the number sequence dictate the structure of the painting. This allowed him to concentrate on the qualities of the paint itself, exploring colour and thickness. The result is a highly abstract structure, but one rooted firmly in the real world.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Jasper Johns born 1930

T00454 Zero through Nine 1961

Inscribed 'ZERO THROUGH NINE JOHNS 61' along the bottom and 'J. Johns | '61' on back of canvas
Oil on canvas, 54 x 41 1/4 (137 x 105)
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961
Prov: With Leo Castelli, New York (purchased from the artist); through Galerie Rive Droite, Paris; the Friends of the Tate Gallery
Exh: Jasper Johns, Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, June-July 1961 (no catalogue); Jasper Johns, Hayward Gallery, London, June-July 1978 (67)
Repr: Ronald Alley, Recent American Art (London 1969), pl.21 in colour; The Tate Gallery (London 1969), p.192; Terry Measham, The Moderns 1945-1975 (Oxford 1976), pl.49 in colour

This is one of a series of pictures showing the numbers from 0 to 9 superimposed. The first painting of this type (subsequently in the collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York) was done in the summer of 1960. There are altogether five the same size as this (including one in grisaille), three smaller ones on paper, one in metal relief, one pastel, a drawing and a lithograph. The series started with the drawing of 1960, the first work in which he mastered the difficult problem of superimposition.

Johns had long been fascinated by numbers as a theme for painting, and in fact his earliest surviving work, 'Construction with Toy Piano' 1954, already incorporates a row of numbers. His other early pictures with numbers include 'Figure 5' 1955, which has a large 5, and a series begun about 1957 in which the numbers from 0 to 9 are repeated over and over again in rows. Some of these works are in bright colours and some in white or grisaille.

It has been suggested that his intention in superimposing the figures was partly to create a multiple image, so that each time the eye adjusts to focus on a number the spectator perceives a slightly different picture; but Johns says that though this obviously occurred, it was unintentional.

(This note is based on information from Leo Castelli and from the artist).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.375-6, reproduced p.375