Beckett, Samuel.
Johns, Jasper.
New York: Petersburg Press, 1976. (12239)

Edition of 250, this copy is no. 136. Watermarked with the initials of Samuel Beckett and the signature of Jasper Johns.

Foirades (translates to Fizzles and refers to utter passivity) contains essays by Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) printed first in French, followed by English. There are five texts by Beckett and thirty-three etchings by Jasper Johns (b. 1930). Johns makes no distinction between certain etchings assigned to the French or English text.

Beckett originally wrote the texts in French in 1972, and followed with the English translation in 1974 for this project. Johns’ etchings were completed in Paris in 1975 and 1976. The endpapers are colored etchings and the inside lining of the portfolio are color lithographs. Johns arranged the essays in an order he chose, and used his stencil-felt numerals to number them. The exhibited opening is part of Fizzle 1 as numbered by Johns, but is actually Fizzle 4 (“I gave up before birth”) as numbered by Beckett.

The text ruminates on inhabiting a body and how that body moves through life experiences. Johns, who split from his abstract expressionist predecessors by working with things the mind already knows, used the imagery of hatch lines, flagstone, and most uniquely flesh-colored body parts from his painting Untitled 1972, as source material. The flagstone in the shown opening resembles honeycomb or a cluster of eggs and informs the line, “I gave up before birth.”

This collaboration between Beckett and Johns continues to fascinate and resulted in an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1977, the Yale Art Gallery in 1988, and in 2012 Tara Ahmadinejad and her theater group, Piehold, created a play about it called “Hand Foot Fizzle Face.” 

Jasper Johns, who is still making art at ninety-one, continues to use common objects and inventive materials in upended conventional ways, inspiring artists in all media. He is known for his paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures.  Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror is currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through February 2022.

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