Jasper Johns was born in 1930 in Georgia, after stints at the University of South Carolina and the Parsons School of Design, Johns began his career in New York City. The reverberations of his work affected nearly every artistic movement from the 1950s through the present day.
In 1958, at Jasper Johns first solo exhibition in New York City, Jasper Johns dazzled the art world with startlingly beautiful paintings and drawings of unexpectedly mundane images: targets, numerals, and the American flag. His work emerged at a time when Abstract Expressionism still held sway as the dominant style, and Johns’ canvases, retained the painterly qualities of that style.
He got his big break at his first solo show, when a member of the MOMA purchased a few of his works; his career quickly took off after that. The Metropolitan Museum has an excellent look at Johns’ early life and artistic aspirations.
Leo Castelli at his gallery during the first Jasper Jone’s firs solo exhibition.
Spurned on by the patriotic atmosphere of the early 1950s, Johns created his most memorable artwork, “Flag,” between 1954 and 1955. A complex work constructed on canvases from paint and newsprint, the piece touches on the “conceptual” and “pop art” movement while making a subtle comment on American society.
Here with the artist and friend Robert Rauschenberg, New York, late 1950s.
Target with Four Faces, 1955. Johns effectively merged painting and sculpture while wittily engaging the viewer with “things which are seen and not looked at.”
False Start, 1959. Johns eschewed the nonverbal symbols of his earlier works, instead relying upon the building blocks of language to draw viewers into a dialogue with the painting.
Happy-Sad, portrait by photographer Ugo Mulas.
Painted Bronze (ale cans), 1960. In this bronze sculpture, Johns intentionally blurs the line between the actual object and its artistic recreation, wherein the handcrafted appearance of the Ballantine Ale cans is only apparent after close inspection.
Periscope (Hart Crane), 1962. Here Johns combined several of the motifs and symbols from his earlier paintings in a constrained palette of gray, black, and white. The upper right-hand corner of the painting contains half of a device circle.
Here with Susan Sontag at a loft party in New York City, 1966.
From left, artists Bill Giles, Anna Moreska, and Robert Rauschenberg, with choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage (in white shirt), watch Johns play skee-ball in Dillon’s Bar, New York, November 10, 1959.
According to What (1964). This expansive, seven by 16 foot painting by joining several canvases together, as well as by adding various found objects to the painted panels. He included techniques that appeared in earlier works, like “brushmarking,” the stenciled names of colors, and cast body parts. He also expanded his visual repertoire through his inclusion of elements like silkscreened newspaper pages that discussed the Kremlin in the center of the painting.
Richard Avedon’s portarit of Jasper Johns, New York City, 1976.
Savarin (1977). Originally designed this big lithograph as a poster for the Whitney Museum’s 1997 retrospective exhibition of his work. The motif of the Savarin coffee can appeared in several of Johns’ earlier works, both as a life-size, painted bronze sculpture and as a found object added to a painting.
Jasper Johns at his studio. Stony Point, 1980.