Jasper Johns
Occupationartist & sculptor

Jasper Johns, Jr. (born May 15, 1930) is an American contemporary artist who works primarily in painting and printmaking.


Born in Augusta, Georgia, Jasper Johns spent his early life in Allendale, South Carolina with his paternal grandparents after his parents' marriage failed. He then spent a year living with his mother in Columbia, South Carolina and thereafter he spent several years living with his aunt Gladys in Lake Murray, South Carolina, twenty-two miles from Columbia. He completed high school in Sumter, South Carolina, where he once again lived with his mother.[1] Recounting this period in his life, he says, "In the place where I was a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn't know what that meant. I think I thought it meant that I would be in a situation different than the one that I was in." He began drawing when he was three and has continued doing art ever since.[2]

Johns studied at the University of South Carolina from 1947 to 1948, a total of three semesters.[3] He then moved to New York City and studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design in 1949.[3] In 1952 and 1953 he was stationed in Sendai, Japan during the Korean War.[3]

In 1954, after returning to New York, Johns met Robert Rauschenberg and they became long term lovers. They used to live in the same building as Rachel Rosenthal also an artist.[4][5][6] In the same period he was strongly influenced by the gay couple Merce Cunningham (a choreographer) and John Cage (a composer).[7][8] Working together they explored the contemporary art scene, and began developing their ideas on art. In 1958, gallery owner Leo Castelli discovered Johns while visiting Rauschenberg's studio.[3] Castelli gave him his first solo show. It was here that Alfred Barr, the founding director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, purchased four works from his exhibition.[2] In 1963, Johns and Cage founded Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, now known as Foundation for Contemporary Arts in New York City.

Johns currently lives in Sharon, Connecticut and the Island of Saint Martin.[9] Until 2012, he lived in a rustic 1930s farmhouse with a glass-walled studio in Stony Point, New York for close to three decades. He first began visiting St. Martin in the late 1960s and bought the property there in 1972. The architect Philip Johnson is the principal designer of his home, a long, white, rectangular structure divided into three distinct sections.[10]



Johns is best known for his painting Flag (1954–55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag. His work is often described as a Neo-Dadaist, as opposed to pop art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture. Still, many compilations on pop art include Jasper Johns as a pop artist because of his artistic use of classical iconography.

Early works were composed using simple schema such as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers. Johns' treatment of the surface is often lush and painterly; he is famous for incorporating such media as encaustic and plaster relief in his paintings. Johns played with and presented opposites, contradictions, paradoxes, and ironies, much like Marcel Duchamp (who was associated with the Dada movement). Johns also produces intaglio prints, sculptures and lithographs with similar motifs.


Johns was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984.[11] In 1990, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. On February 15, 2011 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, becoming the first painter or sculptor to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom since Alexander Calder in 1977.

His text Statement (1959) has been published in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings.[12]

In popular culture

  • In “Mom and Pop Art”, a 1999 episode of the animated television series The Simpsons, Johns guest stars as himself.
  • In the Undergrads episode “Drunks”, Gimpy complains that the students for which he creates fake ID's do not appreciate his art. One of his “customers” rebuffs him, calling him Jasper Johns and stating that he only cares about getting a drink.


  1. Georgian, New Georgia Encyclopedia 16 January 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Finkel, Jori. Artist Dossier: Jasper Johns. May 2009, Art+Auction.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Jasper Johns (born 1930); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  4. (1996) Outlooks: lesbian and gay sexualities and visual cultures. Routledge, 43. ISBN 978-0-415-12468-3. “Rauschenberg, who was better known in 1963 than Warhol was, and Jasper Johns were both prototypical Pop artists as well as gay men; they also were lovers.” 
  5. "Gay Artist Robert Rauschenberg Dead at 82" (14 May 2008). The Advocate. “He met Jasper Johns in 1954. He and the younger artist, both destined to become world-famous, became lovers and influenced each other's work. According to the book Lives of the Great 20th Century Artists, Rauschenberg told biographer Calvin Tomkins that 'Jasper and I literally traded ideas. He would say, 'I've got a terrific idea for you,' and then I'd have to find one for him.'” 
  6. Zongker, Brett. "Smithsonian explores impact of gays on art history", The Associated Press, 1 November 2010. "When artist Jasper Johns was mourning the end of his relationship with Robert Rauschenberg, he took one of his famous flag paintings, made it black, and dangled a fork and spoon together from the top. Hidden symbols in Johns' "In Memory of My Feelings," tell part of story, curators said. Color from the relationship is gone. A fork and spoon elsewhere in the painting are separated. Here we have a coded glimpse into a six-year relationship that was rarely acknowledged even in Rauschenberg's 2008 obituary. The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is decoding such history from abstract paintings and portraits in the first major museum exhibit to show how sexual orientation and gender identity have shaped American art." 
  7. Vaughan, David. "Obituary: Merce Cunningham", 27 July 2009. 
  8. (2010) Jasper Johns. The Museum of Modern Art, 45. ISBN 978-0-87070-768-1. 
  9. Betti-Sue Hertz. “Jasper Johns' Green Angel: The Making of A Print” Resource Library (San Diego Museum of Art) January 29, 2007.
  10. Vogel, Carol. "The Gray Areas of Jasper Johns", New York Times, February 3, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-02-03. 
  11. Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter J. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved on June 2, 2011.
  12. Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings (Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by Kristine Stiles) University of California Press 2012, p. 375
Further reading
  • Bernstein, Roberta. Jasper Johns' Paintings and Sculptures, 1954–1974: "The Changing Focus of the Eye.". Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985.
  • Bernstein, Roberta; Tone, Lilian; Johns, Jasper and Varnedoe, Kirk. Jasper Johns: A Retrospective, The Museum of Modern Art, 2006.
  • Castleman, Riva. Japser Johns: A Print Retrospetive. The Museum of Modern Art 1986.
  • Crichton, Michael. Jasper Johns, Whitney/Abrams, 1977 (out of print).
  • Johns, Jasper; Varnedoe, Kirk; Hollevoet, Christel; and Frank, Robert. Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, The Museum of Modern Art, 2002 (out of print).
  • Max Kozloff. Jasper Johns, Abrams, 1972. (out of print)
  • Krauss, Rosalind E. and Knight, Christopher. "Split decisions: Jasper Johns in retrospect" Artforum, September 1996.
  • Orton, Fred. Figuring Jasper Johns, Reaktion Books, 1994.
  • Pearlman, Debra. Where Is Jasper Johns? (Adventures in Art), Prestel Publishing, 2006.
  • Rosenberg, Harold. "Jasper Johns: Things the Mind Already Knows". Vogue, 1964.
  • Shapiro, David. Jasper Johns Drawings 1954-1984. Abrams 1984 (out of print).
  • Steinberg, Leo. Jasper Johns. New York: George Wittenborn, 1963.
  • Tomkins, Calvin. Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Artworld of our time. Doubleday. 1980.
  • Weiss, Jeffrey. Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965, Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Yau, John. A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns, D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2008.

External links

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