Jasper Johns (b. 1930)
The work of American painter Jasper Johns influenced nearly every artistic movement of the mid to late 20th century.
Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930. His parents divorced shortly after his birth and he spent most of his youth living with his grandmother, and later his aunt, before returning to live with his mother in 1946.
Jasper Johns began drawing at a young age, but didn’t see the arts as a realistic pursuit. It was his instructors at the University of South Carolina, where he attended from 1947-1948, that persuaded him otherwise. Johns’ professors encouraged him to move to New York City to further his arts training and explore the city’s blossoming art scene.
He enrolled in Parsons School of Design in 1949, but found himself at odds with the school’s instruction and left after a single semester. In 1951, Johns was drafted into the Army where he was stationed in Japan from 1952-1953.
In 1954, Jasper Johns received an honorable discharge from the armed forces and returned to New York. Shortly after his return, he met the man who would become his long-time lover and muse, fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg. He and Rauschenberg lived and worked in the same building for several years and in that time explored New York City’s contemporary art scene while developing their own artistic identities.
In 1958, Rauschenberg introduced Johns to gallery owner Leo Castelli. Castelli, greatly impressed with Johns’ work, offered the young artist his first solo exhibition. The exhibition was hugely successful and Johns’ works broadly praised, catapulting him to wide-spread acclaim and landing him a cover story in Art News magazine. Alfred Barr, Founding Director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, purchased four of Johns’ paintings, including what is arguably his most famous piece, Flag.
Jasper Johns’ work merges the nihilistic wit and social commentary of Dadaism with the repurposed iconography and cultural irreverence of Pop Art to create a style and aesthetic that is wholly his own. Most of Johns’ early prints and paintings present visual contradictions and paradoxes composed from simple schemas – primarily flags, maps, letters and numbers. Johns chose these familiar visual archetypes due to the multiplicity of meaning they carry. His works effectively erode the cognitive separation of art from the everyday and ask the observer to reconsider whether the distinction between the two ever truly existed in the first place.
Jasper Johns still produces art, though rarely more than four or five pieces a year. His large-scale works are especially sought after in the auction market, owing to their rarity, as are works from the mid to late 1950’s. Skate’s Art Market Research ranks Johns as the 30th most valuable artist in the world. Of the 1000 most valuable works of art sold at auction, seven are by Johns. Most major art institutions with 20th century holdings own works by Jasper Johns, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Phialdelphia Museum of Art , the Harvard Art Museum and the Whitney Museum of Art who, in 1980, paid $1 million for Johns’ 1958 painting, Three Flags.