Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:
Well, that's what people say. "Pop Art," because Johns used pre-existing imagery (the U.S. flag, beer cans, targets, etc.) in his early works and then Pop Art became The Next Big Thing. Of course, people have also categorized Johns as an Abstract Expressionist (he wasn't, actually), a Minimalist and a Symbolist.
For what it's worth, Johns has democratically rejected each of these labels and offers nothing in their place. Indeed, he has never provided any sort of analysis, clarification or classification regarding his work. He prefers instead that the viewer is left to draw his or her own conclusions.
Date and Place of Birth:
May 15, 1930, Augusta, Georgia
Of long-standing South Carolinian lineage, William Jasper Johns, Jr. was nonetheless born on the Georgia side of the Savannah River (site of the nearest hospital).
Johns' father left while Jr. was still in infancy. Unable to support her child, his mother left him in the care of his paternal grandfather, a cotton farmer. Johns spent all of his formative years in South Carolina, moving from one relative's home to another or living with his remarried mother. When he speaks of his childhood, Johns recalls that he always wanted to be an artist, an anomaly in his young life.
After graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, Johns studied art at the University of South Carolina for three semesters. He then packed up and left for New York City--a goal shared by nearly every young, talented American art student in the late 1940s.
Leaving college also meant that Johns became eligible for the draft, a fact that the US Army did not overlook. He was summoned back to South Carolina in May of 1951 and spent the next 18 months at Fort Jackson. The last six months of his service saw him stationed in Sendai, Japan. He returned to New York after being honorably discharged in May of 1953.
Best Known For:
Deeply intellectual with a sly sense of humor, Jasper Johns is of course best known for his paintings of flags and targets, as well as for inserting actual objects (such as paintbrushes and light bulbs) into his works. He has also worked in sculpture and, more extensively, printmaking. Additionally, he continues to exhibit and is permanently on the list of the top 10 most expensive living artists.
If one needs exhaustive proof that this artist has forever made the unofficial Art Icons list, please refer to The Simpsons Episode 222, "Mom and Pop Art," for which Johns did the voice over of--wait for it--Jasper Johns.
- Flag, 1954-55
- Three Flags, 1958
- Painted Bronze, 1960
Quotes From Jasper Johns:
- Everyone is of course free to interpret the work in his own way. I think seeing a picture is one thing and interpreting it is another. --Johns, interviewed by Yoshiaki Tono, "I Want Images to Free Themselves from Me," Geijutsu Shincho (Tokyo) vol. 15, no. 8, August 1964.
- I knew that my work was different but, even so, I was often able to notice resemblances. Some people were probably put off by the difference. I was put off by the resemblance. --Johns (on his early work), interviewed by John Yau in The Brooklyn Rail, February 2007.
Sources and Further Reading
- Boudaille, Georges. Jasper Johns.
New York : Rizzoli, 1989.
- Crichton, Michael. "Johns, Jasper"
Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 3 March 2008.
- Read a review of Grove Art Online.
- Francis, Richard. Jasper Johns.
New York : Abbeville Press, 1984.
- Solomon, Alan (ed.) and John Cage (essay "Jasper Johns: Stories and Ideas").
Jasper Johns (exh. cat.).
New York: The Jewish Museum, 1964.
- Varnedoe, Kirk (ed.). Jasper Johns: A Retrospective (exh. cat.).
New York : Museum of Modern Art, 1996.