Jasper Johns is 93 years old today
Jasper Johns in his Stony Point, NY studio
Photo by Hans Namuth
Jasper Johns is 93 years old today.
A painter and printmaker, Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia, and spent his early life in Allendale, South Carolina with his paternal grandparents after his parents' marriage failed. He then spent a year living with his mother in Columbia, South Carolina, and thereafter spent several years living with his aunt, Gladys, in Lake Murray, South Carolina, twenty-two miles from Columbia.
Johns completed high school in Sumter, South Carolina, where he once again lived with his mother. Recounting this period in his life, he once said, "In the place where I was a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn't know what that meant. I think I thought it meant that I would be in a situation different than the one that I was in."
Johns studied a total of three semesters at the University of South Carolina, from 1947 to 1948. He then moved to New York City and studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design in 1949. In 1952 and 1953, he was stationed in Sendai, Japan, during the Korean War.
In 1954, after returning to New York, Johns met Robert Rauschenberg and they became long-term lovers. For a time they lived in the same building as Rachel Rosenthal. In the same period, he was strongly influenced by the gay couple Merce Cunningham (a choreographer) and John Cage (a composer). Working together, they explored the contemporary art scene and began developing their ideas on art.
In 1958, Leo Castelli, the gallery owner, discovered Johns while visiting Rauschenberg's studio. Castelli gave him his first solo show. It was here that Alfred Barr, the founding director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, purchased four works from this show.
In 1963, Johns and Cage founded Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, now known as Foundation for Contemporary Arts in New York City.
Johns currently lives in Sharon, Connecticut, and on the Island of Saint Martin. Until 2012, he lived in a rustic 1930s farmhouse with a glass-walled studio in Stony Point, New York. He first began visiting St. Martin in the late 1960s and bought the property there in 1972.
The architect Philip Johnson is the principal designer of his home — a long, white, rectangular structure divided into three distinct sections.
Johns is best known for his painting Flag (1954–55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag. His work is often described as a Neo-Dadaist, as opposed to pop art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture. Still, many compilations on pop art include Jasper Johns as a pop artist because of his artistic use of classical iconography.
Early works were composed using simple schema such as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers. Johns' treatment of the surface is often lush and painterly. He is famous for incorporating such media as encaustic and plaster relief in his paintings.
Johns played with and presented opposites, contradictions, paradoxes and ironies, much like Marcel Duchamp (who was associated with the Dada movement). Johns also produces intaglio prints, sculptures and lithographs with similar motifs.
Johns' breakthrough move, which was to inform much later work by others, was to appropriate popular iconography for painting, thus allowing a set of familiar associations to answer the need for subject. Though the abstract expressionists disdained subject matter, it could be argued that in the end, they had simply changed subjects. Johns neutralized the subject, so that something like a pure painted surface could declare itself.
For twenty years after Johns painted Flag, the surface could suffice – for example, in Andy Warhol's silkscreens or in Robert Irwin's illuminated ambient works.
Since the 1980s, Johns typically produces only four to five paintings a year; some years he produces none. His large-scale paintings are much favored by collectors and because of their rarity are extremely difficult to acquire. His works from the mid to late 1950s, typically viewed as his period of rebellion against abstract expressionism, remain his most sought after.