Johns is an American contemporary artist who works primarily in painting
and printmaking. In the late 1950’s, Jasper Johns emerged as force in
the American art scene. His richly worked paintings of maps, flags, and
targets led the artistic community away from
Abstract Expressionism toward a
new emphasis on the concrete. Jasper Johns laid the groundwork for both
Pop Art and
Jasper Johns is best known for his painting Flag (shown here), 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.
Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1930 and grew up in South Carolina. Jasper Johns grew up wanting to be an artist. “In the place where I was as a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn’t know what that meant,” recounts Johns. “I think I thought it meant that I would be in a situation different from the one that I was in.” Johns studied at the University of South Carolina from 1947 to 1948, for a total of three semesters.
At the age of 22 Jasper Johns moved away from the South to settle in New York, thus pursuing his childhood dream of becoming an artist. Jasper Johns studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design in 1949. In New York, Johns met numerous artists including Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, with whom he retained close intellectual ties over the following years. Working together they explored the contemporary art scene, and began developing their ideas on art. In 1952 and 1953 Jasper Johns was stationed in Sendai, Japan during the Korean War.
By 1952, back in New York, Jasper Johns began to paint, supporting himself with various odd jobs. Johns came to meet the composer John Cage. Jasper Johns became fascinated with Cage's ideas about the lack of boundaries between art and the ordinary materials of the world and, in 1954, Jasper Johns began a series of paintings based on the American flag. Johns created his seminal painting 'Flag', a piece of art consisting of collaged newspaper cuttings painted over in multiple layers. Jasper Johns used wax-based paints that dried quickly, enabling him to layer his brush strokes in rapid sequences, without destroying the autonomy of each layer. This paint became the hallmark of Jasper Johns works.
The modern art community was searching for new ideas to succeed the pure emotionality of the Abstract Expressionists. Johns’ paintings of targets, flags, and maps, invited both the wrath and praise of critics. Jasper Johns’ early work combined a serious concern for the craft of painting with an everyday, almost absurd, subject matter. The meaning of the painting could be found in the painting process itself. The simplicity and familiarity of the subject matter piqued viewer interest in both Johns’ motivation and his process. Jasper Johns explains, “There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists.”
One of the great influences on Jasper Johns was the writings of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. In Wittgenstein’s work Johns recognized both a concern for logic, and a desire to investigate the times when logic breaks down. It was through painting that Johns found his own process for trying to understand logic. The year 1958 marked Johns' breakthrough as an artist. Jasper Johns had his first solo exhibition at the newly opened Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. John's painting "Gray Numbers" (shown here) won the International Prize at the Pittsburgh Biennale.
In the 60s, while continuing his work with flags, numbers, targets, and maps, Jasper Johns began to introduce some of his early sculptural ideas into painting. While some of his early sculpture had used everyday objects such as paint brushes, beer cans, and light bulbs, these later works would incorporate them in collage.
Collaboration was an important part in advancing Johns’ own art, and he worked regularly with a number of artists, including Andy Warhol. Abstract Expressionist figures like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning ascribed to the concept of a macho "artist hero", and their paintings are indexical in that they stand effectively as a signature on canvas. In contrast, Neo-Dadaists like Johns and Rauschenberg seemed 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.
Some have interpreted this as a rejection of the hallowed individualism of the Abstract Expressionists. Their works also imply 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.
A key motif in Johns' approach to art is the practice of introducing a new style of painting while simultaneously turning back to earlier motifs in his prints, repeating them, mirroring them and working them out in series. Over the past 50 years Jasper Johns created a vast and comprehensive oeuvre, which is shown in all important museums and collections of 20th century art. Jasper Johns lives and works in New York.