It may be the ultimate irony that in a story about Jasper Johns’s Regrets series making their debut straight from the studio to MoMA, the octogenarian artist is unwilling to open up about any of his past connections. Not that Julie Belcove doesn’t try. From Robert Rauschenberg to former studio assistant James Meyer who was caught selling unfinished works through a New York dealer without the artist’s knowledge, Belcove keeps getting deflected in her answers. Here’s an example about the subject matter of this new series, a picture of Lucian Freud that Francis Bacon used as the basis of a self portrait:
It may be simply another coincidence that Bacon and Freud were once close friends but had a bitter break, mirroring the rupture between Johns and Rauschenberg more than half a century ago. Johns, though, insists any similarity is accidental. “I don’t know anything about their lives, so that wouldn’t be important to me,” he says.
Johns also claims never to have met either artist, though his friend Bill Katz, who was also close to Bacon (and who renovated the barns and Johns’ grand, stone house), recalls with a chuckle, “I remember introducing [Bacon and Johns] at lunch. When I tell Jasper things he thinks he doesn’t remember, he says, ‘Interesting if true’.”
Though Johns owns a small Freud painting, “a portrait of a poet”, he denies especially admiring either artist. “I don’t think it had anything to do with either of them,” he says before allowing, “You don’t know what happens in your unconscious.”
Jasper Johns: ‘Regrets belong to everybody, don’t they?’ (Financial Times)