Painter, sculptor, and printmaker, Jasper Johns became one of America's best-known post-Abstract Expressionists and Minimalists. His name is most associated with pictorial images of flags and numbers, Pop-Art subjects that he depicted in Minimalist style with emphasis on linearity, repetition, and symmetry. Johns completed his first flag painting in 1955, alphabet subjects in 1956, sculpture in 1958, and lithographs in 1960.
Unlike Abstract Expressionism, these signature works seem removed from the artist's emotions. They are modernist in that they lack traditional perspective, focusing on interrelationships of color and shapes, but are realist in that they have recognizable subject matter.
Born in Allendale, South Carolina, Johns grew up in that state with no formal art training but did attend the University of South Carolina for two years. In 1949, he moved to New York City but was drafted into the Army. Returning to New York, he began experimenting with styles, and "Flag", dated 1955, earned him his first major attention. It was revolutionary in that it was simply a geometric design on a large canvas, divorced from emotional or political connotation.
His flag paintings are credited as key in the development of Minimal Art in that the focus of these pieces was their linearity and uniformity with de-emphasis on the unique creative talents of the artist. For Johns, major influences on this Minimalist style were his friendships with dancer Merce Cunningham, composer John Cage, and artist Robert Rauschenberg.
Over the next few years, Johns used the same approach with other images that were traditionally symbols. In 1956 to 1957, he added numbers to his paintings; in 1958, he did his first sculpture of mundane objects. In 1960, he executed his first lithographs. He later spent seven weeks at the printers Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles.
Johns was given a comprehensive retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1977. He has also shown in 1978 at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Muse National d'Art Moderne, Paris, Hayward Gallery, London, and Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo. He was represented at the Venice Biennale in 1978. In 1979 the Kunstmuseum Basle put on an exhibition of his graphic work which toured Europe. In 1988 he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale.
In 1997, a major retrospective of 225 of Johns' work was held in New York at the Museum of Modern Art, organized by Kirk Varnedoe. Following this, he began a new series that were much more muted, mysterious, and serene than his earlier work. The exhibition of these paintings debuted on September 15, 1999 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and traveled to the Yale University Art Gallery in January 2000 and then to the Dallas Museum of Art.