5 ways to enjoy Jasper Johns with kids

With just under a month left to show, if you’ve been dragging your feet, wondering whether to visit Jasper Johns Something Resembling Truth at the Royal Academy with the kids, here is your big moment to decide.

This landmark exhibition is the first survey of his work to be held in the UK in 40 years and boasts drawings, prints and sculpture. Even if you aren’t familiar with much of his seven decade career, there’s plenty of familiar images, icons and objects which feature among the 150 plus works on display. From target boards, to lightbulbs and numbers, each subject provides its own insight into his unique take on abstract expressionism.

Challenging how we perceive our world, the exhibition covers themes like ageing, childhood and mortality, forcing us to take a closer look at the ‘truth’, the things we take for granted. It’s the epitome of the idea that ‘everyone is an artist’, and having carved his own path, what Johns has achieved is far more fun and compelling than any of his peers at the time (in my view).

We visited just after it opened, and armed with a simple sketchbook and some tracing paper, we spotted some really fun ways to enjoy the exhibition together.

1. Test your mathematical genius against Numbers (2007)
This cast aluminium grid of numbers from zero through nine was created in response to John’s original painting Numbers (1964), his only public commission created in sculpt metal.

Can you spot casts of house keys and an imprint of choreographer Merce Cunningham’s foot near the upper right-hand corner? These aspects link it to the original 1964 work.

What number do you get from adding up a row? And what about the columns? Is this the same number?

How many sequences can you spot if you read the numbers diagonally across the piece?

2. Number drawing conundrum
In a room full of number lithographs, seek out 0 Through 9 (1960). Here, Johns cleverly sketches numbers which are scaled and superimposed over one another, making it difficult to make out their individual forms.

Make like Jasper Johns and challenge the familiarity of the everyday!

Fold a piece of A4 paper in half to create an A5 box, or draw a box in the middle of a piece of paper. Try to copy numbers 0 through to 9 into this box, one on top of the other, same size, same scale, without taking your pencil of the paper.

Looking at your completed work, how easy is it to determine each of the numbers you’ve drawn?

3. False Start (1959) Brainteaser
Painting features heavily in Jasper Johns early career, but not content with just producing paintings that were simply ‘viewed’ or ‘seen’, he wanted to provoke a greater interaction, a playful sense of irony and deeper thought.

As a result, so many of his paintings are characterised by what they are made of, or their scale, composition and colour.

Starting from the top of this piece, can you get all the way to the bottom, ignoring the colour painted, and instead naming the colour which has been written?

4. The artist within
In Room 5 In The Studio Untitled (1964) is one example of where  Jasper Johns began to add tools and materials to his work in order to give us an idea what it’s really like to be an artist.

Can you name all of the primary colours featured in this work?

How many tools or objects can you spot and what do you think they might have been used for?

This work is unsigned and untitled, but what has the artist done to leave his mark? If this was your work, how would people know it’s yours? How would you leave your mark?

5. Memory Tracings
In a room dedicated to memories and identity, with much inspiration drawn from the artist’s youngest years, it seems fitting that the art of tracing is firmly dragged away from ‘child’s play’ and used to serious effect providing a fresh perspective on the work of Freud, Picasso and Grünewald.

If you have a piece of thin or tracing paper with you, have a go at tracing a picture in this section by holding the tracing paper up in the air, in front of the piece, and trace its form as if it was on a table in front of you.

If you don’t have a piece of tracing paper, it doesn’t matter. Pick a picture in this section, step back from it, close one eye and trace around lines, figures and shapes using an index finger.

How easy is it to keep to the original, and does it matter?

What else would you add to this new tracing to make it your own?

For more ideas on how to make the most of the exhibition if you’re visiting with children, pick up an Art Detectives pack from the information desk at the Royal Academy, with more questions, challenges and things to spot in the exhibition (suitable for 4+, with assistance).

Jasper Johns Something Resembling Truth is on at the Royal Academy of Art until 10th December.
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD.
Admission Adults £19 full price (£17 without Gift Aid donation), concessions available, children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free. All tickets include a multimedia guide.
Open daily 10am – 6pm, until 9pm on Fridays.

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