Jasper Johns  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jasper Johns, Jr. (born May 15, 1930 in Augusta, Georgia) is a contemporary U.S. artist in painting and printmaking. He is best known for his painting Flag (1954-55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag.

Early life

Jasper Johns grew up in Allendale, South Carolina, and recounting this period in his life, he says, "In the place where I was a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn't know what that meant. I think I thought it meant that I would be in a situation different than the one that I was in."

Johns studied at the University of South Carolina from 1947 to 1948, a total of three semesters. He then moved to New York City and studied briefly at Parsons School of Design in 1949. While in New York, Johns met Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Working together they explored the contemporary art scene, and began developing their ideas on art. In 1952 and 1953 he was stationed in Sendai, Japan during the Korean War.

In 1958, gallery owner Leo Castelli discovered Johns while visiting Robert Rauschenberg's studio.


He is best known for his painting Flag (1954-55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag. His work is often described as a 'Neo-Dadaist', as opposed to pop art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture. Still, many compilations on pop art include Jasper Johns as a pop artist because of his artistic use of classical iconography.

Early works were composed using simple schema such as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers. Johns' treatment of the surface is often lush and painterly; he is famous for incorporating such media as Encaustic (wax-based paint), and plaster relief in his paintings. Johns played with and presented opposites, contradictions, paradoxes, and ironies, much like Marcel Duchamp (who was associated with the Dada movement). Johns also produces intaglio prints, sculptures and lithographs with similar motifs.

Johns' breakthrough move, which was to inform much later work by others, was to appropriate popular iconography for painting, thus allowing a set of familiar associations to answer the need for subject. Though the Abstract Expressionists disdained subject matter, in the end it could be said that they simply changed subjects. Johns neutralized the subject, so that something like pure paint--painted surface--could declare itself. For twenty years after Johns painted "Flag," the surface--in Andy Warhol's silkscreens or Robert Irwin's illuminated ambiances--could suffice.

In contrast to the concept of macho 'artist hero' as ascribed to Abstract Expressionist figures such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, whose paintings are fully indexical (that is, standing effectively as an all-over canvas signature), 'Neo-Dadaists' like Johns and Robert Rauschenberg seem preoccupied with a lessening of the reliance of their art on indexical qualities, seeking instead to create meaning solely through the use of conventional symbols, painted indexically in mockery of the hallowed individuality of the Abstract Expressionists. There is also the issue of symbols existing outside of any referential context; Johns' flag, for instance, is primarily a visual object, divorced from its symbolic connotations and reduced to something in-itself.

In 1998, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York paid more than $20 million for Johns' White Flag.

In 2006, private collectors Anne and Kenneth Griffin (founder of the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel Investment Group) bought Johns' False Start for $80 million.

Other work

Jasper Johns once guest-starred on The Simpsons as himself. In the episode "Mom and Pop Art", Homer Simpson accidentally becomes an artist, and Johns attends one of his exhibitions. Johns is portrayed as a kleptomaniac, stealing items of food, lightbulbs, a motor boat, and a painting Marge is working on.

  • White Flag (1955)
  • False Start (1959)
  • Study for Skin (1962)
  • Figure Five (1963-64)
  • Seasons (1986)
  • Three Flags (1958)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Jasper Johns" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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