Jasper Johns was born on May 15, 1930 in Augusta, Georgia, and was raised in South Carolina. He briefly studied at the University of South Carolina at Columbia before moving to New York in 1948. Johns studied at the Parsons School of Design for a semester upon arrival, before serving two years in the army during the Korean War. Upon returning to New York in 1953, he befriended Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage, all of whom would deeply influence Johns’ work.
Johns is most closely associated with the Neo-Dada movement, and is often cited as a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. His work takes as its subject simple, easily recognizable icons rendered through such materials as encaustic and plaster. Perhaps most famous among these are his series of American Flag paintings, which he began in 1954 after having a dream that he was painting an American flag. Lacking the gestural feel of the Abstract Expressionists, Johns let the associations of the flag come to inform the meaning of the work. He would continue to mine the meanings of other such notable iconography as targets, numbers, and letters.
Johns has similarly explored these concepts through pure sculpture, and works which incorporate elements of both painting and sculpture. His pure sculptures are of such quotidian items such as flashlights, which are sculpted first in wax, and layered with collaged elements such as newsprint before being cast in bronze.
In 1958, noted gallery owner Leo Castelli came across Johns’ work while visiting Robert Rauschenberg’s studio. He was immediately taken with the paintings, and gave the 28-year-old Johns a show on the spot. Johns’ popularity continued to quickly rise, with the Museum of Modern Art purchasing three pieces from that show. In 1977, he was given a comprehensive retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which again honored him with a retrospective organized in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2020. In 1988, he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale, and in 1996 the Museum of Modern Art presented the exhibition, “Jasper Johns: A Retrospective”. His work can be found in major museums around the world, including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Broad Museum, Los Angeles; and the Tate Modern, London, among others.
Jasper Johns currently lives and works in Sharon, Connecticut.