Jasper Johns has been described as as one of the most acclaimed and influential living artists. Today, at the age of almost 82 he remains at the forefront of American art. He also ranks with Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, Munch, and Picasso as one of the greatest printmakers of any era.
Childhood and Early Life
May 15, 1930 marks the birthday of Jasper johns. He was born and raised in South Carolina to parents in a troubled marriage. Johns spent his childhood and youth growing up in the homes of his paternal grandparents, his mother and his aunt Gladys. From the accounts that I have read. the simple security and quietude of childhood were not to be his. He began drawing early in his life somewhere around 3 years old and by the time he had reached the age of 5, Jasper Johns knew that he wanted to become an artist. He says of that period of his life, "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."
College and Military Service
When Jasper Johns was ready for college he spent 3 semesters in the University of South Carolina, where at the urging of his teachers he moved to NYC where he studied could better study art . He attended the Parsons School of Design for a short time before serving in the US Military during the years of 1952-53, when the Korean War was being fought and during this time Jasper Johns was stationed Sendai, Japan.
Back to New York
After his service days, in the year 1954, he returned to New York where he met other young artists, some of these included John Cage the composer, Merce Cunningham the choreographer, and Robert Rauschenberg another painter. Raushenberg and Johns had gotten a job a job at Tiffany's where they creating the stores window displays, this helped to pay the bills and gave them opportunity to explore the New York art scene where they were developing their own concepts about art and finding a place for their ideas and art to happen.
Influences from the Art World
New York was fast becoming the center of the art world, the place where what was happening in art was happening there. It was where artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning had been busy creating their art within the Abstract Expressionist movement. The New York art community was growing restless with Expressionist art and was searching for something more, for the next new idea to succeed that pure emotional output of the Abstract Expressionists ...and the work of Johns was about to fill that need for the something new of the next great thing.
Along with the influences of the NY art community a visit to Philadelphia gave Jasper Johns an opportunity to view Marcel Duchamp’s painting, 'The Large Glass', which interested Johns greatly. Duchamp and his “readymades”, a series of found objects that were presented as finished works of art, had already impacted the art world and it was this irreverence for the fixed attitudes toward what could be considered art that was to have a substantial influence on the work of Jasper Johns.
Marcel Duchamp's The Large Glass (left) Jasper Johns at age 29 (center) and his most famous painting "Flag"(right)
Hitting the Mark
In 1958 during a visit to Rauschenberg’s studio, the gallery owner, Leo Castelli was first able to see Jasper Johns artistic work and at this time Castelli was so impressed with Jasper Johns and his artistic ability and inventiveness that, without a second thought, he offered Johns his first solo show. At this exhibition, Alfred Barr, the founding director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr, purchased several works of Johns. This was a clear signal of what a major figure and influence Jasper Johns would become in the world of art. Jasper Johns was 28 at the time.
Jasper Johns and Leo Castelli, years later
In with the New
The work of Jasper Johns was new and fresh and waiting to be discovered. Critic's would soon be split in their reviews of his work. Some would praise his art wile others would put it down, but the up and coming Neo-Dadaists like Jasper Johns were to find their way and place in the art world and in doing so would be paving the way for the the Pop Art and Minimalism movements, which were yet to come, and by doing that other artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Irwin would also have their day and their art movement.
The brightness of the sun of the Abstract Expressionists was dimming and would have to give way to brighter and rising light of artists like Jasper Johns. Whereas the Abstract Expressionist had reveled in disdaining subject matter, Jasper Johns was making use of things that were familiar to people, he used popular iconography and found objects as his painting's subject. Things like flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers stood in such concrete contrast to the work of the Abstract Expressionists. Johns artistic process stressed the conscious control over his work rather than the emotional, spontaneous and subconscious process.
He became well known for the incorporation of found objects and the familiar all incorporated in rich media like the ancient art of encaustic and his use plaster relief in his paintings as well as the sculptural qualities he used to compose his work. These simple subjects and the beauty of simplicity that Johns used in his work caught the viewers interest and attention, in both the motivation and process of creating these paintings and Jasper Johns says about his process, “There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists.”
Jasper Johns is best known for his painting Flag (1954–55)
So what does it mean?
which he painted after having a dream of the American flag
in 2006 it was valued at more than $20 million.
The following quote, taken from 'Jasper Johns Thematic Essay, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History' comments on the possible meanings of the flag themes in Jasper Johns art. "It has been suggested that the American flag in Johns' work is an autobiographical reference, because a military hero after whom he was named, Sergeant William Jasper, raised the flag in a brave action during the Revolutionary War. Because a flag is a flat object, it may signify flatness or the relative lack of depth in much modernist painting. The flag may of course function as an emblem of the United States and may in turn connote American art, Senator Joseph McCarthy, or the Vietnam War, depending on the date of Johns' use of the image, the date of the viewer's experience of it, or the nationality of the viewer. Or the flag may connote none of these things. Used in Johns' recent work, for example, The Seasons (Summer), an intaglio print of 1987 (1999.407b), it seems inescapably to refer to his own art. In other words, the meaning of the flag in Johns' art suggests the extent to which the "meaning" of this subject matter may be fluid and open to continual reinterpretation."
Recognition and the Presidential Medal of Freedom
On February 15, 2011, Jasper Johns became the first painter or sculptor to receive
Jasper Johns major works
the Presidential Medal of Freedom since Alexander Calder in 1977.
President Barack Obama presenting the award.
- Flag (1954–55)
- White Flag (1955)
- Target with Plaster Casts (1955)
- False Start (1959)
- Three Flags (1958)
- Coathanger (1960)
- Painting With Two Balls (1960)
- Painted Bronze (1960)
- Device (1962-3)
- Periscope (Hart Crane) (1963)
- The Critic Sees (1964)
- Study for Skin (1962)
- Figure Five (1963–64)
- Voice (1967)
- Skull (1973)
- Tantric Detail (1980)
- Seasons (1986)
- Numbers in Color(1958–59)
Here are many of Jasper Johns paintings:
White Flag (1955)
Target with Plaster Casts (1955)
False Start (1959)
Three Flags (1958)
Painting With Two Balls (1960)
Jasper Johns Quotes:
On the crosshatch paintings; Johns first saw the pattern on an oncoming car: "I only saw it for a second, but knew immediately that I was going to use it. It had all the qualities that interest me—literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of complete lack of meaning."
"Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that."
"I have no ideas about what the paintings imply about the world. I don't think that's a painter's business. He just paints paintings without a conscious reason."
"I often find that having an idea in my head prevents me from doing something else. Working is therefore a way of getting rid of an idea."
"Most of the power of painting comes through the manipulation of space... but I don't understand that."
"Sometimes I see it and then paint it. Other times I paint it and then see it. Both are impure situations, and I prefer neither. At every point in nature there is something to see. My work contains similar possibilities for the changing focus of the eye."
"To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist."
"I'm interested in things which suggest the world rather than express the personality... The most conventional thing, the most ordinary thing – it seems to me that those things can be dealt with without having to judge them; they seem to me to exist as clear facts, not involving aesthetic hierarchy."
"One works without thinking how to work."
"I am just trying to find a way to make pictures."
"It all began with my painting a picture of an American flag. Using this design took care of a great deal for me because I didn’t have to design it. So I want on to similar things like the targets things the mind already knows. That gave me room to work on other levels. For instance, I’ve always thought of a painting as a surface; painting it in one color made this very clear… …A picture ought to be looked at the same way you look at a radiator."
"My primary concern is visual form. The visual meaning may be discovered afterwards – by those who look for it. Two meanings have been ascribed to these American Flag paintings of mine. One position is: ‘He’s painted a flag so you don’t have to think of it as a flag but only as a painting’. The other is: ‘You are enabled by the way he has painted it to see it ‘as a flag (italic)’ and ’not’ as a painting. Actually both positions are implicit in the paintings, so you don’t have to choose."
"Like drawing a straight line – you draw a straight line and it’s crooked and you draw another straight line on top of it and it’s crooked a different way and then you draw another one and eventually you have a very rich thing on your hands which is not a straight line. If you can do that it seems to me you are doing more than most people. The thing is, it is very difficult to know oneself whether one is doing that or not, whether you mean what you do; and there is the other problem of the way you do it and whether sometimes you do more than you mean or you do less than you mean. It’s very good if you can establish a language where it’s clear that that is what you are doing – that you do what you mean to do."
"As you (interviewer Y. Tono) has written, people say that my works are ‘neutral’. But if you paint something, it is ‘something’, and it cannot be neutral. Being neutral is a mere expression of a form of intention."
"Every artist feels alone and isolated, Friends are very important in terms of all sorts of definitions of oneself. They tell you what you are and what they are aside from the intellectual aspects."
"I have attempted to develop my thinking in such a way that the work I’ve done is not me – not to confuse my feelings with what I produced. I didn’t want my work to be an exposure of my feelings. Abstract Expressionism was so lively – personal identity and painting were more or less the same, and I tried to operate the same way. But I found I couldn’t do anything that would be identical with my feelings. So I worked in such a way that I could say that it’s not me. That accounts for the separation."
"Painting has a nature which is not entirely translatable into verbal language. I think painting is a language, actually. It’s linguistic in a sense, but not in a verbal sense. I think that one wants from painting a sense of life. And I think that is true. One wants to be able to use all of one’s facilities in all aspects of one’s life… …You may have to choose how to respond and you may respond in a limited way, but you have been aware that you are alive,. The final suggestion, the final statement, has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement."
I have tried to present some information on Jasper Johns who might be arguably the greatest living artist. He is an artist of such stature and great depth that I have only skimmed the surface but I hope it inspires you to seek a closer look at the man and his art which has influenced society and culture so much and seek your own understanding of such a great talent.
I understand that Jasper Johns still produces art at a rate of 4 or five pieces a year. Thank you for taking the time to look at this presentation!
I had the privilege of seeing my first Jasper Johns painting up close and live last year at the Seattle Art Museum. You can see it below.
Thermometer, and yes that is a real thermometer that will tell you the temperature!
Rather fun painting! If I recall the notes on the wall indicated that it may have been
some fun Jasper was having about color temperatures and the push pull of them.
Link to last months Artist of the Month
Subject matter for this presentation have been taken from these sources:
Jasper Johns - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jasper Johns - Jasper Johns, About the Painter - PBS American Masters
Jasper Johns Thematic Essay, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Jasper Johns Biography
Famous Art Quotes by Artists