Jasper Johns and his paintings
Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1930, and grew up in small towns in South Carolina. Having shown a childhood affinity for drawing, he nurtured interest in art and poetry during his early education,
at the University of South California. After a brief period at art school in New York, he served in the army in 1951-53, in South Carolina, and then in Japan. On his release from the army he moved back to New York. There his
contacts with artists, especially Robert Rauschenberg, prompted him to a higher level of commitment to his art - a commitment that entailed his destruction of virtually all his previous works.
Johns' first mature painting, Flag (1954-55; The Museum of Modern Art, New York), was painstakingly fabricated, predominantly with newspaper collage and encaustic. Immediately following came a series of encaustic paintings of numbers and targets (two of the latter including, in rows of boxes above the bull's eye, plaster casts of body parts and face fragments respectively). These works were all but unknown until Johns' first solo exhibition, at the Leo Castelli Gallery, in January 1958. With that show and its attendant critical attention, Johns was immediately pegged as one of the most important figures in a new wave of American art that was to eclipse the dominance of Abstract Expressionist painting.
Fortified by his close friendships with Rauschenberg and with musician John Cage and the dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham, and strongly drawn to the subversive legacy of Marcel Duchamp, Johns became universally recognized as a key progenitor of both the Pop and the Minimal art of the 1960s. His appropriation of bold flat imagery such as the American flag, and his strategies of working by systematic repetition, catalyzed whole schools of new painting, sculpture, and Conceptual art. However, as was already clear in his first retrospective exhibition, at The Jewish Museum, New York, 19 1964, his own work resisted any clear stylistic label or group affiliation, as it blended attached objects, inscribed words and a complex richness of surface elaboration, within an alternation between concrete literalness and painterly abstraction. A mood of private, enigmatic thoughtfulness, often ironic, melancholic, or gravely repressed in its overtones, linked together his concern with language, the sinuosity of his work's surfaces, and his recurrent imagery of the body in parts. In the early 1960s he also produced a small but influential body of actual-size sculptures of commonplace objects such as beer cans, light bulbs, and flashlights, and by the end of that decade he had gained a reputation as a master printmaker.
Since the late 1980s Johns' art appears to have centered on issues of childhood and memory, often employing a base of motifs recovered from earlier works, layered over with a new skein of imagery ranging from a floor plan of his grandfather's house to a ghostly spiraling galaxy.
Since the 1980s, Johns produces paintings at four to five a year, sometimes not at all during a year. His large scale paintings are much favored by collectors and due to their rarity, it is known that Johns' works are extremely difficult to acquire.
Skate’s Art Market Research (Skate Press, Ltd.), a New York based advisory firm servicing private and institutional investors in the art market, has ranked Jasper Johns as the 30th most valuable artist.
Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.”