Jasper Johns | 10 Facts About The American Artist


Jasper Johns is an American artist whose work which laid the foundation for Pop artists like Andy Warhol. Among the most important artists of the twentieth century, Johns has created many famous works including masterpieces like Flag and False Start. Here are 10 interesting facts about the life and achievements of this revolutionary painter and print-maker.


#1 Jasper Johns had a difficult childhood

Born on May 15, 1930 in Augusta, Georgia, Jasper Johns was the son of Jasper Johns Sr. and his wife Jean Riley Johns. His father was an alcoholic and when Jasper was one year old his mother left his father. However she was unable to support Jasper and hence he spent his childhood between his mother and various relatives. He wanted to be an artist from an early age.

Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns


#2 Johns was romantically involved with another famous artist Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg

After studying briefly at the University of South Carolina, Johns moved to New York in 1950s. Here he met a number of other artists including the painter Robert Rauschenberg. Together they developed their ideas on art. They initially supported themselves by doing collages, drawings and paintings for window displays used by luxury stores such as Tiffany and Bonwit Teller. Johns and Rauschenberg had a long romantic relationship.

#3 Museum of Modern Art purchased four works from his first solo show

In 1958, gallery owner Leo Castelli saw Johns’ work while visiting Rauschenberg’s studio. He was so impressed that he offered the twenty eight years old Johns a solo show. The show was a success with New York’s Museum of Modern Art purchasing four pieces. Johns soon established himself as one of the major artists in the United States.


#4 Jasper Johns is more often described as Neo-Dadaist than as Pop Artist

Johns’ early works which are considered revolutionary were paintings of flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers. He was known to play with and present opposites, contradictions, paradoxes, and ironies. Although his work can also be classified as pop art because he used imagery from popular culture, he is more often associated with the Neo-Dada movement.

Map (1961) - Jasper Johns
Map (1961) – Jasper Johns


#5 His biggest inspiration was Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp

Jasper Johns was inspired by the revolutionary French artist Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp was associated with the Dada art movement. He rejected art which was created only to please the eye and focused on the mind instead. Duchamp’s art had a substantial influence on Johns and he expanded on Duchamp’s ideas further which is why Johns is often called a Neo-Dadaist.

Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp


#6 His early artwork laid the foundation for both Pop Art and Minimalism

When Johns entered the art market Abstract Expressionism was the dominant art movement. It combined emotional intensity with abstraction. Jasper Johns’ artwork led the art community away from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art and Minimalism. Pop art is marked by imagery from popular culture while Minimal art aims to expose the essence.

Target with Four Faces (1955) - Jasper Johns
Target with Four Faces (1955) – Jasper Johns


#7 Jasper Johns’ most famous work is Flag

Created during 1954-1955, Flag is Jasper Johns’ most famous work. Measuring 107.3 cm by 153.8 cm the painting depicts the flag of the United States. Johns was inspired to paint it after he had a dream about the US flag in 1954. On November 11, 2014, a 1983 version of Flag was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York for $36 million. This is the maximum price a Johns’ artwork has fetched at an auction.

Flag by Jasper Johns
Flag by Jasper Johns


#8 His painting False Start is the most expensive painting by a living artist

In 1980, Johns’ 1958 artwork Three Flags fetched $1 million which at that time was the highest price paid for the work of a living artist. In 2006, private collectors Anne and Kenneth Griffin bought Johns’ 1959 painting False Start for $80 million making it the most expensive painting by a living artist. False Start is an oil painting in which Jasper uses interlocking, varied patches of colors, all of which are named in the work.

False Start (1959) - Jasper Johns
False Start (1959) – Jasper Johns


#9 Jasper Johns is considered one of the greatest printmakers of all time

Apart from painting, Jasper Johns is also a renowned sculptor and printmaker. His sculptors are usually of banal objects such as beer cans and light bulbs. His innovative contributions to screenprints, etchings, linocuts and lithography have revolutionized the field of Prints. Along with Picasso, Rembrandt, Goya, Munch and Durer; Jasper Johns ranks as one of the finest printmakers in history.

Jasper Johns receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Jasper Johns receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama


#10 Jasper Johns received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011

Jasper Johns is one of the greatest American artists and among the most prominent artists of the twentieth century. In 1990, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. On February 15, 2011 Johns received the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Barack Obama. Today, he remains at the forefront of American art and his work is represented in nearly every major museum collection.

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