The secret weapon behind the success of Jasper Johns
“I’ve always been in the background,” says John Lund, who has been making prints with iconic American artist Jasper Johns for four decades. “I think of myself as a facilitator, applying technique to realize his vision.” Lund has lived on Johns’ property since shortly after Johns bought the Sharon, Connecticut, estate in 1995. The printmaker helped the artist design the print studio adjacent to his painting studio in a former horse stable. “Painting and printmaking function off each other,” says Lund. “The work has a back and forth conversation.” John and his wife Christina, a teacher who works with dyslexics, have two grown sons, one of whom followed his father’s path to be a printer and painter in London, and the other works for an NGO in Fiji but is starting graduate school in Copenhagen in crisis management, “a growth industry,” Lund deadpans.
Lund grew up in Minnesota—the son of a scientist and attended St. Olaf’s College as a pre-med student but transferred to University of Minnesota when he realized he was spending more time in the studio than the laboratory. Lund went straight from college to
New York and found work at the prestigious Universal Limit Artist Editions (ULAE) on Long Island. “I stopped making my own prints at about 22,” Lund says, “when I started working with my visual heroes, artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Johns. It was kind of intimidating.”
In a 2005 interview with Elizabeth DeRose republished in March, Lund explains, “I think I went into printmaking for the same reason that I ran hurdles in high school. I wasn’t the fastest in the straightaways, but if you gave me a problem, I could get over it quicker than most.” Hurdling is an apt metaphor to printmaking because both are difficult and technical, demanding both exacting skill and practice.
Together Lund and Johns have made over 70 editions—each final edition can have over a hundred proofs that tell the story of how the artist gets to the final version. “Once, we got to a point when it was so simplified that we thought the next step would be potato prints like in preschool,” says Lund.
The pair archive all these proofs. “Each proof informs the next one on the journey to the final print,” says Ellen Keiter, director of exhibitions at the Katonah Museum of Art, where Johns’ and Lund’s works are on exhibition. “It’s quite unusual in the print world for a contemporary artist to have a dedicated printer maker. A printmaker is part chemist, part mathematician. It’s about testing. Almost like being in a laboratory. John is a master printer.”
Lund says that over decades working with Johns, he has come to have an “instinctual feel for the intention of the artist.” Because he lives on Johns’ property and works full-time, he and the artist can be more experimental—trying out something. Then trying out something else. Lund quotes Johns’ famous sketchbook quote: “Take an object. Do something, do something to it, and then do something to that,” as particularly apropos of printmaking and their simultaneously creatively loose and technically tight approach in the studio.
Johns is famously reclusive but Lund says that he has a rich life in Sharon. “He has friends. He’s very close with nature. He’s an avid cook, mushroomer, and gardener.”