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Since the late 1950's, Jasper Johns has been an influential force in the American art scene. His richly works of maps, flags, and targets challenged artists away from Abstract Expressionism towards the physical.
Johns laid the groundwork for both POP ART and MINIMALISM. Today, as his prints and paintings set record prices at auction, the meanings of his paintings, his imagery, and his changing style continue to be subjects of controversy.
Trained briefly at the University of South Carolina, Johns moved to New York in the 50s. In New York, Johns met and was influenced by a number of other artists including the composer John CAGE, the choreographer Merce CUNNINGHAM, and the painter Robert RAUSCHENBERG. After a visit to Philadelphia to see a Marcel DUCHAMP painting, Johns became very interested in his work. Duchamp had revolutionized the art world with his "readymades" - a series of found objects presented as finished works of art.
Johns' paintings of targets, maps, invited the praise of several important critics of the time. Johns' early work combined a serious concern for the craft of painting with an everyday, almost absurd, subject matter. The simplicity and familiarity of the subject matter piqued viewer interest in both Johns' motivation and his process. Johns explains, "There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists." One of the great influences on Johns was the writings of Austrian philosopher Ludwig WITTGENSTEIN.
Johns' concern for process led him to printmaking. Often he would make counterpart prints to his paintings. He explains, "My experience of life is that it's very fragmented; certain kinds of things happen, and in another place, a different kind of thing occurs. I would like my work to have some vivid indication of those differences." For Johns, printmaking was a medium that encouraged experimentation through the ease with which it allowed for repeat endeavors. His work in screen printing, lithography, and etching have revolutionized the field.
In the 60s, while continuing his work with flags, numbers, targets, and maps, Johns began to introduce some of his early sculptural ideas into painting. While some of his early sculpture had used everyday objects such as paint brushes, beer cans, and light bulbs, these later works would incorporate them in collage. In the 60s he worked with a number of artists including Robert MORRIS, Andy WARHOL, and Bruce NAUMANN. In 1967, he also met the poet Frank O'HARA and illustrated his book, In Memory of My Feelings.
In the seventies Johns worked with the writer Samuel BECKETT and created a set of prints to accompany his text, Fizzles. These prints responded to the overwhelming and dense language of Beckett with a series of obscured and overlapping words. This work represented the beginnings of the more monotone work that Johns would do through out the seventies.
In the 80s, Johns' work had changed again. Having once claimed to be unconcerned with emotions, Johns' later work shows a strong interest in painting autobiographically. For many, this more sentimental work seemed a betrayal of his earlier direction.
A technical genius, he remains at the forefront of American art, with work represented in nearly every major museum collection.
SELECTED MUSEUMS AND EXHIBITIONS - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York - Museum of Modern Art, New York - Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco - National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC - Art Institue of Chicago - Stadel Museum, Frankfurt - MUMOK, Vienna - Smithsonian, Washington, DC - Tate Gallery, London - Whitney Museum of Art, New York