Here Johns combined several of the motifs and symbols from his earlier paintings in a constrained palette of gray, black, and white. The upper right-hand corner of the painting contains half of a device circle. In 1959, Johns adopted a
technique in which he attached a wooden slat, usually a ruler or canvas stretcher, to the painting to create a compass-drawn circle. The device dragged through the paint formed a target that echoed his earlier target paintings. However,
here he interrupted the concentric circles of the target with an imprint of his outstretched hand. The handprint suggests the replacement of the artist's hand with a mechanical device.
The artist's hand is a recurring form in a series of works, including Periscope (Hart Crane), that Johns executed from 1962 through 1963 and that focus on Hart Crane, whose poetry resonated deeply with Johns. Crane famously committed suicide at 32 during a return trip from the tropics, by diving off a ship into the Gulf of Mexico. Just before he disappeared below the sea, he reached his hand above the waves. The handprint can be read as a visual reference to Crane's suicide. Executed after the bitter end of his relationship with Rauschenberg, it signals Johns' emotional distress in the wake of their breakup. The periscope in the title also refers to Crane's poem Cape Hatteras (1929), which had dual importance for Johns. He not only moved into a studio near Cape Hatteras in 1961, but the epic poem also traces the changes in one's memory as time passes. In the aftermath of their breakup, Johns likely identified with the theme of change and loss, which he illustrated through the grasping hand, the mirrored words, and the splashy brushwork that echoed waves crashing about a drowning man. In direct contrast to the coolly automated aesthetic of Pop art that his work helped bring about, Johns imbued his works of the early 1960s with complicated messages of loss and emotional hardship, which reflected his vulnerable position after the end of his and Rauschenberg's powerful and influential relationship.