“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag, and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” – Jasper Johns
Instead of oil paint, Johns (b.1930) used encaustic paint (a mixture of molten wax and color pigment), that gave the surface such a unique uneven texture. Johns painted on strips of newsprint that were then adhered to three canvases, and then mounted the entire work on plywood. His stripes appear to be incised into the background. In fact when you look at the painting closely you will discover that it consists of three separate panels – two stacked horizontal rectangles on top – the stars, the color bands to the right of the stars, and a long horizontal block on the bottom.
This, instantly recognizable arrangement of visual elements – white stars on a field of blue and horizontal bands of white and red pigment – is more than just an American flag. In fact, Jasper Johns’ Flag (1954 – 1955) has come to symbolize a profound relationship between a mental association (immediate recognition of the symbol) and color (applied with precise intention), that comes together to make this an inimitable part of American contemporary art. Johns always works “on things the mind already knows” (and recognizes).
It’s an impressive work of art, one that draws you in and invites a further examination of every element.
The painting is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NYC. © 2013 Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Watch our interview with Francis M. Naumann on Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Discover Jasper Johns paintings in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.
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