Jasper Johns: No Explanation Needed

At age 88, Jasper Johns has remained one of America’s most prominent living artists. He lives, and works, in his home in Sharon, Connecticut.

Target, 1961, Jasper Johns, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Ken Lund, July 14, 2018 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Johns has been making his mark on the art world for more than sixty years. He still works in his studio, a converted barn on his property and, last year, Johns made plans to turn his 170-acres into an artists’ retreat after his death.

No Explanation Needed

Jasper Johns has never been one to talk about, or explain, his work. He said that the idea for his first Flag painting, which catapulted him to fame when he was just 24, came to him in a dream.

Jasper Johns Prints

Jasper Johns
Three Flags, 1958

He succinctly explained his process in a notebook, in which he wrote, “Take an object / Do something to it / Do something else to it. [Repeat.]”

Johns’ repeated use of familiar symbols (he has done dozens of flag paintings), covered by his heavy brushstrokes, act as backgrounds for his works that allow the viewer to give them meaning. This method has worked so well for Johns, and those who see his work that, just a few years ago, one of his flag paintings went for $36 million.

Some Explanations Given

Johns’ work is very personal and, although he has never been chatty with long explanations, the titles of his paintings, and snippets that he has shared with friends, sometimes reveal the back story.

Jasper Johns Prints

Jasper Johns
Periscope, 1979
50 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches
Edition: 63/65
Signed: j johns ’79 (u.r.)
For sale ar Surovek Gallery

The hand that recurs in many paintings, is based on a poem by the poet, Hart Crane, who committed suicide at age 32, by diving off a ship into the Gulf of Mexico and stretched his hand above the waves just before he drowned.

Crane’s poetry, and despair, resonated with Johns, and he began the Periscope series at a time in his life when he had just had an unhappy breakup with Robert Rauschenberg.

There is also humor in much of Johns’ work. In Untitled, Johns used the colors, and words, Red, Yellow and Blue, and snuck a little square of green stuck in the corner of the lithograph.

Jasper Johns Prints

Jasper Johns
Lithograph on paper
34 1/4 x 30 3/8 inches
Signed: j johns
For sale at Surovek Gallery

One of Johns’ most recent works, created in 2016, has several recurring images, including a ruler. The ruler shows up often in Johns’ work and he has told the backstory…an event from his childhood that had a lasting impact on him.

Jasper Johns Prints

Jasper Johns
Untitled, 2016

Johns said that when he was in the second grade, one of his classmates, named Lottie Lou,  misbehaved and the teacher was going to discipline her by hitting her with a ruler. Lottie Lou grabbed the ruler from the teacher and broke it in half. Johns said that he admired his classmate’s rebellion and has often used a ruler in his work.

Jasper Johns at Surovek

Please contact us if you would like more information about Periscope or any of the other works of Jasper Johns available at Surovek Gallery.

See More Work from Jasper Johns

2021-06-01T16:13:34-04:00 June 21st, 2018|

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