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 a
ltogether 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.