Johns, Jasper

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Jasper Johns is a major figure in modern American art. He is renowned for his innovative treatment of everyday subjects in his paintings, drawings, and sculptures.

Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia, on May 15, 1930. He began to draw as a child and decided early on to become an artist. Johns was largely self-taught. But he briefly attended the University of South Carolina and the Parsons School of Design.

In 1954, a dream compelled Johns to begin a series of paintings depicting his best-known subject, the American flag. His work has since featured images of what Johns called "things the mind already knows." These include targets, maps, words, and stenciled numbers and letters. He is a prominent practitioner of encaustic painting, in which pigments are mixed with hot wax. Using this technique, Johns creates distinct brushstrokes and subtly textured surfaces.

The history and practice of making art is another of Johns's frequent subjects. In his paintings, he has incorporated paint cans and brushes as well as visual references to artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Matthias Grünewald. His work has also included images of his own paintings, shadows, and handprints.

Johns has been celebrated as a pioneer of pop art ("popular art") since the late 1950's. But his work has become increasingly abstract. In the late 1960's he began depicting flagstone patterns. In the 1970's his work often featured crosshatch designs. Johns's later work has included painted illusions that fool the eye into seeing three dimensions on a flat surface. An example is Perilous Night (1982).

Jessica Stewart
National Gallery of Art

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