Monday, July 4, 2011

The emblem of the land I love

Happy Independence Day, America!

"Love your country. Your country is the land where your parents sleep, where is spoken that language in which the chosen of your heart, blushing, whispered the first word of love; it is the home that God has given you that by striving to perfect yourselves therein you may prepare to ascend to him."
- Giuseppe Mazzini

Flag, 1954-55
Jasper Johns, encaustic, oil, collage on fabric on plywood

I'm sure ya'll can tell why I chose today's artist. It seemed rather appropriate for Independence Day. :)

Jasper Johns was born in Augusta, GA in 1930 (So, I have to appreciate the GA connection too!), started college at South Carolina in Columbia, but moved to New York to continue school in 1948. He served in the army during the Korean War in Sendai, Japan for two years, returning to New York in 1953. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama on February 15th, 2011. He was the first artist to receive this medal since Alexander Calder in 1977. He currently resides in Sharon, Connecticut.

White Flag, 1955
Jasper Johns, Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas

Johns is considered one of the most notable printmakers in history alongside Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Francisco Goya, and Picasso. He is described as a Neo-Dadaist (Using modern materials, popular imagery, and absurdist contrast to comment on the condition of the modern era), though many refer to him as a Pop artist. Though he does use a lot of popular symbols typical of Pop Art, he is NOT a Pop Artist.

Flags, 1968
Jasper Johns, lithograph with stamps

The Metropolitan Museum of Art gives this description of the meaning behind Johns' many flag works:

"It has been suggested that the American flag in Johns' work is an autobiographical reference, because a military hero after whom he was named, Sergeant William Jasper, raised the flag in a brave action during the Revolutionary War. Because a flag is a flat object, it may signify flatness or the relative lack of depth in much modernist painting. The flag may of course function as an emblem of the United States and may in turn connote American art, Senator Joseph McCarthy, or the Vietnam War, depending on the date of Johns' use of the image, the date of the viewer's experience of it, or the nationality of the viewer. Or the flag may connote none of these things. Used in Johns' recent work, for example, The Seasons (Summer), an intaglio print of 1987, it seems inescapably to refer to his own art. In other words, the meaning of the flag in Johns' art suggests the extent to which the "meaning" of this subject matter may be fluid and open to continual reinterpretation."

Three Flags, 1958
Jasper Johns, encaustic on canvas

As I know I've said before, I'm not any kind of expert on contemporary arts. But I do enjoy Jasper Johns a great deal. Something about him really calls to the patriot in me and I enjoy his painterly style. The Greenville Museum of Art near my undergraduate university had quite a few Johns works and I remember walking through an all-Johns exhibition during my freshman year.

I hope this gave you a couple of ideas of his treatments of the flag motif. Contrasting colors, differing sizes, monochromatic scales. It kind of makes me think not only of the hodge-podge of people that make up the U.S., but also the different opinions, ideas, and visions that support this country as well.

Map, 1961
Jasper Johns, encaustic, oil, and collage

"And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me."
- Lee Greenwood

And for a bit of FUN trivia. I'm sure everyone knows this photograph from WWII, The Kiss...

See the arrow/circled lady?

That's my great Aunt Natalya :)


  1. um AWESOME about your great aunt!! I like Johns but always feel like I shouldn't...I don't know why. The Map one is my fav, and it's really sweet in person. I love seeing the textures!

  2. It is curious to me that he could take something so well-known and interpret it in a variety of ways. I too liked the America map, but it seemed that the east coast began to slide into the Atlantic. Maybe he started in the west and was getting tired when he got to New York.