Sturtevant's paintings are choices the artist makes on purpose. Throughout her career she has consistently chosen artworks considered to be icons of recent contemporary art. The artist herself has said: "The emotional and intellectual jolt of encountering a known object that is then denied its content results, if not in immediate rejection, in a shifting and disturbing mode of thought. There is a loss of balance that demands going beyond" (Magritte, exh. Cat., Musée des beux-arts de Montréal, 1996, p. 125). And just as art critic Alan R. Solomon might ask, "Is it a number or is it a painting," as we encounter the present work we wonder: Is it a Johns, or is it a Sturtevant?
Like Sturtevant, in the 1960s Jasper Johns played with existing images of pictures. Johns' Numbers address basic questions about perception and the nature of representation. Johns developed their form from commercial stencils, and the use of such "found shapes" that are predetermined and widely recognizable challenge the way the viewer looks at art by transforming the ordinary into a richly worked visual image. In his monochromatic numbers, the use of a single color renders each motif almost invisible and if it were not for the thickly applied encaustic and collage, we would be at a loss for all meaning.
Sturtevant approaches painting as a physical operation, as if the depositing of a medium on the canvas were an end in itself rather than a way to create an image. Even more than the picture itself, Sturtevant invokes the essence of Jasper Johns simultaneously attacking the methods of thinking and doing painting. To create her paintings, Sturtevant does not copy. She does not employ grids, squares, tracing paper or cameras. She summons her memory of images to recreate and reinvent them. By obsessively utilizing the identical materials and techniques as those who came before her, Sturtevant asserts her work is not about copying or appropriation, rather, the power and autonomy of originality.
Perhaps Jasper Johns himself best explains Sturtevant's Johns White Numbers in this famous quote: "There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists."