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Jasper Johns

(1930-)

Painter, sculptor, and printmaker Jasper Johns is one of America's best known post-Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist. His pictorial images of flags and numbers has helped to bridge the gap between low art and high art, and has established him as a founding father of Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptual art.

Jasper Johns was born on May 15, 1930 and raised on a farm in Allendale, Georgia, South Carolina. In 1949, he enrolled at the University of South Carolina, Columbia and stayed on for only three semesters before moving on to New York to study at the Parsons School of Design.

Just as the artist had begun to explore and develop some ideas on art with friends Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage, he was drafted and sent to serve in the Korean War. He was stationed in Sendai, Japan for two years. Upon his return from the war, Johns picked up where he had left off, looking for work as an artist. He found work in a bookshop in New York and collaborated with Robert Rauschenberg to create window displays for Tiffany’s and Bonwit Teller.

Inspired by John Cage's ideas concerning the lack of boundaries between art and the ordinary materials of the world, Johns painted his first flag picture in 1954. It depicted the American flag rendered in heavily textured brushwork that would become the first in a series that regarded the use of common objects as art. He produced not only variations on the flag image in various mixed media, but also replicated other commonplace two-dimensional objects such as bull's-eye targets, numerals, and letters. He portrayed things often over-looked, attempting to “recreate” them by transferring them to canvas in order to encourage viewers to examine and reconsider their meaning.

In 1958, Jasper Johns began to use this approach with other symbols, and explored sculpting mundane objects such as beer cans and brushes in a coffee tin. During the next year, he executed his first lithographs. The artist had his first one-man exhibition that year at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York and exhibited the same year at the Venice Biennale. His picture ‘Grey Numbers’ won the International Prize at the Pittsburgh Biennale.

Inspired by Surrealism and Dadaism, his focus began to shift during the 1960’s when he started using surfaces complicated by bold colors, letters and other symbols. He used the paint itself as a new type of structure, affixing objects to the canvas. By incorporating panels of color, abstract shapes, letter forms and found objects, he created a style that would eventually pave the way for Pop Art.

In 1990, Jasper Johns was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. In 1997, a major retrospective of 225 of his works was held in New York at the Museum of Modern Art.

During the 1990’s, the talented artist began a new series of art work that was more muted, mysterious, and more serene than his earlier endeavors. He exhibited on September 15, 1999 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and traveled to the Yale University Art Gallery in January 2000 and then to the Dallas Museum of Art. Jasper Johns continues to hold a place on the list of the top ten most expensive living artists of our time.

Movements associated with Jasper Johns:
American artists, Pop art


Art prints by Jasper Johns
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