Abstract expressionism dominated the American art scene in the early fifties, a style Jasper Johns never identified with. He went in another direction, becoming an influence in the movement commonly called Pop Art. He took ordinary flat, two-dimensional objects – flags, targets, numbers – and painted them in vibrant colors.
Photos don’t do justice to Johns’s work, however. He used what’s called an encaustic technique, in which pigments are mixed with hot liquid wax. And his surfaces are intentionally distressed to remove some of the emotional impact from the commonplace objects portrayed. The American Masters series on PBS said this about Johns: “It was a new experience for gallery goers to find paintings solely of such things as flags and numbers. The simplicity and familiarity of the subject matter piqued viewer interest in both Johns’ motivation and his process. Johns explains, ‘There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists.’”
His work has sold for astronomical sums, making Johns one of the wealthiest authors ever. Don’t expect to find his originals at the Starving Artists show the next time it comes to your town.
Since in this case a picture is worth a thousand words, or at least several paragraphs, here are representations of some of Jasper Johns’s famous works.