Jasper Johns emerged as a major figure in post-war art with a landmark show at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York in 1958. Over the next decade, he established his reputation with a type of imagery that has become iconic for the twentieth century: Flags, Targets, Numbers and Alphabets depicted in a variety of techniques and media, including paintings, drawings and prints. Works of this type by Johns have had a profound impact on subsequent art because they address basic questions about perception and the nature of representation itself. In Ten Numbers, Johns developed the forms from commercial stencils, as he does for all of his number and alphabet imagery. The use of such "found" shapes-one that are pre-determined and widely recognizable-are meant to challenge the way the viewer looks at a type of sign normally so common as to be banal. Ten Numbers is one work in ten parts, with the numerals 0 to 9 each represented on a separate sheet of paper. Using a soft charcoal stick as a basis, Johns heavily worked this media with brushes, a stump (a tight roll of cloth or leather), and his own hands, developing a rich surface. His aim seems to have been to index, with each number, the different ways he could make marks using charcoal.
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