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Posted on: May 15th, 2015 by Lewis Mindenhall No Comments

Happy Birthday To Celebrated Artist Jasper Johns. 88 Today.

By Lewis Mindenhall


A Happy Birthday to Artist Jasper Johns. Born on May 15, 1930 in Augusta, Georgia. Together with Rauschenberg and several Abstract Expressionist painters of the previous generation, Jasper Johns is one of the most influential American painters and printmakers of the twentieth century. By the mid 1950’s Johns was inventing a style of painting that helped engender a number of art movements, among them Pop, Minimal and Conceptual Art with the expressionistic gestural abstraction of the Abstract Expressionists, although his technique stresses conscious control rather than spontaneity. During this period and through the 1960’s Johns achieved fame from his series of targets, flags, numbers, maps as well as his sculpture. Rather than direct representation or abstraction, Johns made images of signs.  His ideal subject was the “things the mind already knows” because of the varied meanings they carried which fostered the perceptual ambiguity and semiotic play at the heart of his works.

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.  (Jasper Johns).

White Flag. 1955. The largest of Johns’s flag paintings and the first where the flag is presented in monochrome. The encaustic process allowed the artist to make the brushstrokes more distinct which varies from translucent to opaque. It is also painted on 3 separate panels which were built up by applying unbleached beeswax, then built up with a collage technique of cut or torn pieces of newspaper, other papers and bits of fabric. These pieces were dipped into hot liquified beeswax and then adhered to the surface. Once the panels were joined together they were then overpainted with more beeswax mixed with pigments.


White Flag, 1955. Jasper Johns. Encaustic, oil, newsprint and charcoal on canvas (198.9 x 306.7 cm).

Three Flags, 1958. Johns created the sensuous texture of this painting with a similar technique to the White Flag. The three separate canvasses stacked on top of each other challenge the conventional definition of a painting by making the observer aware of the work as an object.


Jasper Johns. Three Flags, 1958.

Target With Four Faces, 1958. The target and plaster cast body parts started to emerge in Johns work in 1955. The Target with four faces is one of a series of paintings and drawings done in the period from 1958 to 1961. The flat target is both representational and abstract at the same time, This meant to make the image susceptible to other ambiguities. Targets also imply the seeing across a space which are represented as a violent object or symbol. The very nature of the yellow and blue bands within the target can also be understood to symbolise an optical distraction rather than a focus. The target is universal and focuses attention on the theme of viewing, and represents the need to observe a target over a certain distance which makes the target a true visual display and only purpose for it’s existence. The plaster cast faces at the top are all from the same woman, and in each successive casting the woman becomes more relaxed, which is seen from the tight and closed mouth on the far right and becoming more open and comfortable to the face on the far right.


Jasper Johns. Target with four faces, 1958.

Painted Bronze Beer Cans. 1960. The work was inspired from a joke in the art world. William de Kooning once said to New York art dealer Leo Castellini that he could sell anything, so Johns obliged in making the sculptural piece in painted bronze, which Castellini sold and made a nice profit from. There is however more to this Neo Dada work of art than meets the eye, The two cans are meant to symbolise the romantic relationship Johns had with fellow painter Robert Rauschenberg while they were living in New York. When the relationship ended unfavorably for the pair they neither saw or spoke to one another for over 10 years. One of the cans also says Florida on it, which is where Rauschenberg moved to in 1960 when they separated. The same can is also punctured at the top which is meant to represent the difference in personalities.


Jasper Johns. Painted bronze beer cans, 1960.

Map, 1961. A map of the United States Of America is broken down to reveal it’s absurdity. America is represented as paint on a canvas. The stencilled text of the different states are hardly legible and the outline of the country is even harder to detect. The map becomes like the flag, referring to everything, yet paradoxically nothing, apart from paint on canvas.


Jasper Johns. Map, 1961.

Jasper Johns. A revolution in printmaking. Johns became one of the greatest printmakers of his age, and in addition to his prints has produced many drawings and unique works on paper. His prints show a mastery of the various processes involved through experimentation, since 1960 when he made his first lithographs, he has also combined etching and screenprinting to his repertoire, and completed more than three hundred editions. Many of the techniques involved in printmaking require a drawn image to be reversed, which Johns used to his advantage in the indirectness of the process, allowing Johns to return to the same motifs in order to explore different methods and techniques that would allow him to reinterpret the subject in different ways.


Jasper Johns. Figure 7, lithograph on paper. 1968.


Jasper Johns. “Cicada”, 1979. Screenprint on Kurotani Hosho paper, from 16 screens.


Jasper Johns. The Seasons Set. (spring,summer,fall,winter). Set of four etchings with aquatint in colours on Somerset paper. 1987.


Jasper Johns. The Seasons, 1989. Intaglio from four copper plates and mixed media.