In the mid-1950s Jasper Johns was searching for a way to move beyond Abstract Expressionism. He took the radical step of destroying his previous work and began painting a set of motifs that included numbers, the American flag, and the alphabet. These instantly recognizable images allowed him to reintroduce subject matter into his work, freeing him to explore other painterly concerns. One of the found images that Johns employed was the target, and from 1955 to 1961 the artist produced several dozen paintings and drawings that explored this device.
Initially, Johns chose a palette of primary colors, a preexisting schema as found as the image itself. The artist’s use of oil and encaustic (pigment mixed with hot wax) created a quick-drying medium that recorded each drag and drip of the brush in almost sculptural terms. Indeed, these gestural nods to his Abstract predecessors allowed him to investigate the subtle nuances between form and material. There also exists a tension between the idea of the representational (a target) and the notion of the abstract (the geometry of concentric circles).