Jasper Johns is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the U.S. This honor, along with his being the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2011, is more confirmation that Johns is one of this country’s most outstanding artists. A further confirmation of Johns’ distinction, is his appearance in Season 10, Episode 19 of The Simpsons. Johns voiced himself in the episode, called Mom and Pop Art. Isabella Rossellini is the voice of the gallery owner.
Jasper Johns’ life began in Augusta, Georgia in 1930. His parents were divorced when he was still a toddler and he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in the rural town of Allendale, South Carolina. He was later shuttled between the home of his aunt Gladys in Lake Murray, South Carolina and the home of his mother in Sumter, South Carolina.
Johns said that he had always wanted to be an artist, although his exposure to art had been minimal. “The only logical thing I can think of,” he said, “is that I knew there were such things as artists, and I knew there were none where I lived. So I knew that to be an artist you had to be somewhere else. And I very much wanted to be somewhere else.”
After graduating from high school in 1947, Johns studied art at the University of South Carolina for three semesters and then left for New York to study at the Parsons School of Design. Johns was drafted into the army in 1951, during the Korean War. He was stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he managed an art gallery, and then sent to serve in Sendai, Japan.
When Johns got back to New York, in 1953, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and others, had formed an art community that was ramping up the Pop movement. Johns and Rauschenberg lived together as partners and had a profound influence on each others’ works.
Using the design of the American flag took care of a great deal for me because I didn’t have to design it. So I went on to similar things like the targets – things the mind already knows. That gave me room to work on other levels. —Jasper Johns
Johns was interested in technique, and used encaustic wax to create his 1954 Flag painting. “Using the design of the American flag took care of a great deal for me because I didn’t have to design it.” Johns said. “So I went on to similar things like the targets – things the mind already knows. That gave me room to work on other levels.”
Gallery owner, Leo Castelli, gave Johns his first solo show in 1958. The show included the work he had done during the preceding three years. His Flags, Targets, Numbers and Alphabets caused a lot of controversy at a time when Abstract Expressionism was the defining American Art movement.
Being catapulted into the limelight may not have been easy for Johns, who was not as outgoing as Rauschenberg. In interviews, Johns appears shy and a bit nervous.
In his memoir, Painting Below Zero, James Rosenquist wrote that he considered Johns a mentor and was, “the most laconic person I know.” He said that Andy Warhol was obsessed with Johns and was very “playful” with him. “Andy’s playfulness was not appreciated by the austere, enigmatic Jasper himself,” Rosenquist wrote, “but this didn’t stop Andy from having GO TO BED WITH JASPER JOHNS pillows made.”
Johns began to create prints and to experiment with printing techniques in 1960. Etching, intaglio and other print methods enabled Johns to create interesting surfaces and textures in his work, like Periscope l, available in our gallery at this time.
Creating sculptures seems like a natural progression of his work, since his paintings and prints have a sculptural quality to them. In 1988, the work False Start, sold at auction for $7 million, breaking the record for the highest price paid for the work by a living artist.
Johns lives and works in his Connecticut home, and travels to his home on the island of St. Martin when it gets cold in Connecticut. Jasper Johns is just one of the many artists whose work we offer for sale at Vertu Fine Art.