Canvas work

5 works of art by Jasper Johns that blur the line between art and everyday life

With a career spanning nearly 70 years, American painter, sculptor and printmaker Jasper john has had a profound influence on the art world. Using common objects, written words and innovative materials, he rejected conventional techniques in favor of his own visual language.

Through his art, Johns breaks the boundaries between fine art and real life and invites viewers to question the way we see and interact with the world. The 91-year-old neo-dada artist is believed to have helped influence movements such as pop art, minimalism and conceptualism, and he continues to inspire contemporary artists today.

Read on to discover five works of art by Jasper Johns and the stories behind them.

Here are five works of art by Jasper Johns that sought to challenge the public’s perception of the world.

Flag, 1954-55

When Johns chose to represent the American flag, he sacrificed a lot of power in terms of color and composition. However, it is its process and its materials that allow the piece to stand out as an original work of art. Johns created this work by combining wood slabs, shreds of newspaper, enamel paint and polish, a mixture of pigment and melted wax. This quick-drying medium froze paint drips and brush strokes, leaving a very textured surface where you can see the artist’s marks. Additionally, portions of the journal text remain visible through the wax and entice the viewer to take a closer look. Johns’ choice of midrange captures a handcrafted quality, which contrasts with the mass-produced quality of the American flag itself. He once said: “At first I was very involved in the notion of painting as an object and I tended to attack this idea from different directions.

Flag was an experience that began Johns’ career-long investigation of ‘how we see and why we see as we do’. While one person may associate the image of the American flag with national pride and freedom, others may see only imperialism and oppression. This work of art made Johns one of the first artists to provide polar meanings in a national symbol. When critics asked Johns if the work was a painted flag or a flag painting, he replied that it was both.

Target with four faces, 1955

In Target with four faces, Johns again explores a familiar object that “the mind already knows”. Mixing between painting and sculpture, the artist rendered the target textured on a wooden box using polish (wax pigment) and collage. Four plaster casts of the lower half of human faces are mounted above the target. The faces were referenced from a single model over a period of four months and arranged in non-sequential order. By not showing the model’s eyes, the cut faces seem to represent the anonymous masses. The target symbol may have hinted at the targeting of society through political powers and the media during the Cold War, when the artwork was made. The coin’s hinged lid allows the viewer to open and close the box and interact with the painting in a physical way.

False start, 1959

False start playfully confuses the viewer with perceptual and linguistic clues. The expressive spots of red, yellow, blue, orange and white are stenciled with the words “red”, “orange”, “blue” and “yellow”. However, not every written word matches the visual color. For example, Johns writes the word “white” in red ink, stenciled over yellow brush strokes. By focusing on the abstraction of colors and the words that represent them, Johns does away with traditional associations.

He says of his work: “Flags and targets have colors positioned in a predetermined way. I wanted to find a way to apply the color so that the color was determined by some other method.

According to what, 1964

Johns created this huge 16-foot-long painting by stitching together several canvases and adding various three-dimensional objects to the painted panels. The artist incorporated themes and techniques he used in his earlier works, such as expressive brushstrokes (he called “brushmarking”), stenciled color names, and molded body parts. A chair, a cast of legs, and another smaller canvas with a hinge are attached to the panels. Johns also developed his techniques to the center of the canvas with the inclusion of newspaper pages silkscreened on the Kremlin.

On the far left, the small canvas shows a silhouette of Marcel Duchamp, John’s mentor. “Duchamp made a work that was a torn square,” recalls Johns. “I took a trace of the profile, hung it on a string, and cast its shadow, so that it became distorted and no longer square.” he adds: “I deliberately took Duchamp’s own work and modified it slightly, and I thought I would play a kind of game on whoever’s work it is, mine or his.

By displaying these quilts of elements, Johns invites the viewer to experiment According to what from different perspectives and interpret their own meaning.

Corpse and mirror II, 1974

In his work from 1972 to 1983, Johns used a new pattern of hatch marks. He first saw the pattern on a passing car. He remembers, “I only saw it for a second, but I knew immediately I was going to use it. It had all the qualities that interest me: literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with silence and the possibility of a total lack of meaning.

In his distinct and playful way, Johns abstracts the motif from his typical use by repeating it on the canvas in primary colors to create a thrilling composition. While the gestural painting appears free and expressive, the title, Corpse and mirror II, suggests a deeper meaning. Again, Johns creates tension between composition and subject, prompting the viewer to reflect on the work’s true meaning.

Jasper Johns: Website

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