Jasper Johns

About the Artist

Jasper Johns is a master American painter and printmaker, whose work and ideas bridged the gap between the Dada and Post-impressionist movements.

Early Life and Education

Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia in 1930. His parents divorced when he was very young and he spent his early childhood in Allendale, South Carolina with his paternal grandparents, and later with his aunt Gladys in Lake Murray, South Carolina. Although his exposure to art, growing up in rural South Carolina, was minimal, Johns said that he always wanted to be an artist.

Johns went to the University of South Carolina for three semesters and then moved to New York, in 1949, to study at the Parsons School of Design. In 1951, Johns was drafted into the army during the Korean War. He was stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he managed an art gallery, and then sent to serve in Sendai, Japan. After two years of service, Johns returned to New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he had a long term relationship. He and Rauschenberg designed window displays for department stores when they weren’t working on their own paintings.

Career

Johns move to New York at a time when artists like Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and others, had created a community of artists, each developing their unique vision of American art. Johns’ big break came in 1958, when gallery owner Leo Castelli visited Rauschenberg’s studio, saw Johns’ work and gave him his first solo show. MoMA’s director, Alfred Barr, purchased four of his paintings.

Johns’ incorporation of “things the mind already knows” in his paintings allows for individual interpretation of the images he uses. It seemed a natural progression for Johns to go from painting with layered and textured media to sculpture and printmaking. Johns is one of America’s premier printmakers, with the ability to create meaning and texture in his lithographs.

An episode of the animated television show, The Simpsons, featured Jasper Johns as himself and Isabella Rossellini as his gallery owner. The episode, called Mom and Pop Art is a testament to Johns’ recognition as an American icon. Johns lives and works in Sharon, Connecticut and has a home on the island of Saint Martin.

Collections and Awards

Johns works are in MoMA, the Whitney and other major museums around the world. The Whitney paid $1 million for Three Flags in 1980. False Start was sold by Sotheby’s, in 1988, for $17.05 million, a record price paid for a work by a living artist at auction. Johns received the National Medal of Arts in 1990 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011.

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