0-9, 1960 by Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns is well known for his drawings and paintings of numbers. His work on paper 0-9 (1960) provide two examples of Johns's ability to make the medium part of the subject of his work. In 0-9, the two-by-five grid and sequential inclusion of numerals zero through nine emphasize the idea of a structured and closed set. The graphite wash employed in this work allowed Johns to create varying shades and to toy with the separation between figure and ground. Here, brushstrokes often play an integral part in defining the forms of the numerals and in directing one's eye from one number to the next. Graphite dust is sprinkled noticeably on the paper surrounding the image. The visible juxtaposition in texture between the proper grid of numbers and these seemingly incidental, powdery smudges highlights the physical conversion of the dry graphite into a wet wash.

This conversion mimics both the shifting roles that numbers play in day-to-day life and the ways in which they function in Johns's work. When written, numbers transform easily from abstract ideas to concrete symbols, thus relaying necessary information. Because Johns displays these numbers without any mathematic context or implied application, he demonstrates how numbers can further transition from symbols to graphic forms, designed for aesthetic contemplation.