Jasper Johns

0 through 9


Not on display

Jasper Johns born 1930
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1372 × 1048 mm
frame: 1401 × 1078 × 48 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961


0 through 9 is an oil painting on canvas by the American painter, sculptor and printmaker Jasper Johns. This large work, rendered in distinct areas of red, blue and golden yellow, presents the viewer with the numerical figures 0–9, each scaled to fill the whole canvas and superimposed over one another, such that while each number is visible, it is difficult to discern them individually. The application of the paint is characterised by heavy brush marks and oil films, along with widespread impasto. Areas of colour are highly worked and blended within and across individual spaces created by the overlapping numbers. This blending is evident throughout the entire composition, as is the multi-directional nature of the brushstrokes. Linear accents have been added in charcoal. The painting is inscribed ‘Zero through Nine Johns ’61’ along the bottom edge and ‘J. Johns/’61’ on the back of the canvas.

0 through 9 was made by Johns in 1961 when he was living in New York. It is one of a series of twelve works by the artist, some produced in editions, that show the numbers 0 to 9 superimposed over one another. The series began with a drawing of 1960 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). In total, there are five paintings in the series the same size as the Tate work, including one made using a grey monochrome technique known as grisaille. Johns also made three smaller paintings on paper, a metallic relief, a pastel and a lithograph (Alley 1981, p.375). These include the lithograph 0 through 9 1960 (collection of the artist) and the lead relief 0 through 9 1970 (collection of Carolyn and Preston Butcher) (reproduced in Garrels 2013, pp.53, 54).

From the beginning of his career Johns frequently used numbers as a subject for his painting. Construction with a Toy Piano of 1954 (Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel), his earliest surviving work, incorporates a row of numbers, while works such as Numbers 2005 (private collection; reproduced in Garrels 2013, p.78) show repeated rows of numbers, again from 0 to 9. Further works present individual numerals, as can be seen in Figure 2 1969 and Figure 3 1969 (both Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; reproduced in Garrels 2013, p.71). In 0 Through 9 the seriality indicated by the title is disrupted by the superimposition of the numbers in the image, so that the numerals become singular motifs, their forms interweaving, without the suggestion of a pattern or sequence.

Johns made his first Target and Number paintings in 1954 and 1955, and his first solo exhibition, at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, in 1958, included work featuring what were by then his trademark subjects of flags, targets, numbers and letters of the alphabet. These commonplace subjects became, for Johns, a way of focusing the viewer’s attention on the painter’s methods, materials and techniques. They are also things that are ‘seen and not looked at, not examined’ (Johns quoted in Garrels 2013, p.13) and facilitated Johns’s desire to direct the spectator’s focus towards questions of seriality and repetition. Rather than presenting the numerals 0 to 9 serially or individually, the superimposition of 0 through 9 requires the viewer to look at individual numbers through each other.

This interest became evident again in the 1970s when Johns produced paintings and screenprints featuring a linear hatching and cross-hatching motif, such as Scent 1973–4 (Ludwig Collection, Aachen). In these paintings crosshatched brushstrokes are grouped together and carefully positioned to convey rhythm and pattern. Johns’s work of the 1980s, such as In the Studio 1982 (collection of the artist), featured more autobiographical elements, while his catenary paintings of 1997 to 2003 embarked on a new mode of creative enquiry in which the artist deployed a wire curve as a form of connector within the paintings’ composition (see, for instance, Bridge 1997, collection of Helen and Charles Schwab).

0 through 9 was first exhibited in an exhibition of Johns’s work at Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, in June–July 1961.

Further reading
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, pp.375–6, reproduced p.375.
David Joselit, Jasper Johns: Numbers, 0–9, and 5 Postcards, exhibition catalogue, Matthew Marks Gallery, Los Angeles 2012.
Gary Garrels (ed.), Jasper Johns: Seeing with the Mind’s Eye, exhibition catalogue, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco 2013.

Beth Williamson
February 2017

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

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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

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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

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