Monday, March 3, 2014

Jasper Johns

As I was browsing through books filled with the beautiful works of various artists, there was one artist in particular who caught my eye- Jasper Johns. Johns is a contemporary American artist, whose work includes painting, printmaking and sculptures. I think what really made this artist call out to me was the result of his concern for process. The subjects of his paintings- flags, targets, numbers, and letters- are not very complex objects, but Johns described them as a means to explore techniques, materials, and methods for creating art. Johns's work is inspired by a variety of sources, such as dreams, domestic objects and things read or seen in books or the works of other artists. His work is based on his perception of ordinary things and experiences. 

Johns was born in Georgia, but spend his childhood in Allendale, South Carolina. Johns grew up knowing that he wanted to be an artist, however he didn't really know what this would mean. He once said, "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 from the one that I was in." Johns succeeded in becoming an artist and became "a major force in the art world" when he was discovered by gallery owner Leo Castelli and was offered an exhibition where the Museum of Modern Art would later purchase three pieces of his work. 

"I am interested in the idea of sight, in the use of the eye. I am interested in how we see and why we see the way we do." -Jasper Johns, 1969

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1954-55. Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels 

Flag was created after Johns dreamt of painting a large American flag and is one of Jasper Johns's better known pieces. It typifies his style and creativity. The subject of this painting, the American flag, has a simple geometric structure but has a more complex meaning behind it. It was created two years after Johns was discharged from the United States Army. The simplicity of the structure of the flag allowed Johns to focus on the technique behind the painting, similarly to many of his other works. 

His method is very unique. He covers canvas with newspaper, alternating dark columns of text with light margins, creating movement which persists even after being covered with other medium. The medium that he predominantly uses is made of a mixture of encaustic and hot pigments. 

Johns once said,  "my work is largely concerned with relations between seeing and knowing, seeing and saying, seeing and believing. Preconceptions which are a sort of "knowing" may be placed in doubt or may be affirmed by seeing." I can relate to these sentiments of truly seeing an object rather than assuming what it should be. Pursuing art at Duke has taught me how to see an object and to never assume that I know what it looks like. 

Jasper Johns is well known for taking a different path from the Abstract Expressionist work that was prevalent during the 1950's and challenging the way people thought about art. Without a doubt Johns's work has made me think about art differently. It has made me examine objects that I would ordinarily overlook or not presume to be very interesting, which is what I loved about it. 

"We like the novelty of giving up what we know, and we like the novelty of coming to know something we did not know. Otherwise, we would just hold on to what we have, and that's not very interesting." - Jasper Johns, 1969

Jasper Johns, Numbers in Color, 1958-59. Encaustic and newspaper on canvas. 

I hope that after examining the work of Jasper Johns that I will find new inspiration in objects that I might have overlooked before. I hope to find myself examining the meaning behind things that I would ordinarily take for granted, like numbers. Numbers inherently represent the relationship between a symbol and a quantity. They are used every day for the most basic of tasks, but at the same time can represent very high levels of thinking and can be used for complex functions and they may even represent something I have yet to ponder. Finding new meaning in objects, considering what they really look like and being open to new things, as Johns suggests, keeps things interesting. 

Some other works of Jasper Johns are pictured below:

Jasper Johns, Figure 2, 1973. Graphite on paper

Jasper Johns, Target, 1958.

Jasper Johns, Cicada, 1979. Color Screen print

Jasper Johns, Etching and drypoint on paper.

Jasper Johns, Flashlight, 1960. Bronze, glass

Bernstein, R. (1992). Jasper johns. New York: Rizzoli.
Jasper johns, about the painter. (2008). Retrieved March 2, 2014, from
Jasper johns : Seeing with the mind's eye(2012). In edited by Gary Garrels, with essays by Roberta Bernstein, Gary Garrels, Brian M. Reed, James Rondeau, Mark Rosenthal, Nan Rosenthal, Richard Shiff,and John Yau., Garrels G.,editor of compilation. and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,host institution. (Eds.), . San Francisco, California: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with Yale University Press.
Johns, J., 1930-. (1997). In Castelli L. (Ed.), Jasper johns. New York: Universe/Vendome.

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