About This Work:
“Jasper Johns did not make a painting of the American flag, he made the American flag a painting” – Ron English
Jasper Johns was born in 1930 in Georgia, and from an early age, he grew up wanting to be an artist. When in New York City, where he moved to in his twenties, he met the artist and future long-term lover Robert Rauschenberg, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and composer John Cage, all of whom profoundly influenced each other.
His career began with a desperate act. At 24, in 1954, two years after he was discharged from the U.S. Army, he destroyed nearly all his art. Then came a kind of vision. “I dreamed I painted a large American flag”. The next morning he began doing just that. His thoughts must have been racing; the enamel house paint he was using wasn’t drying fast enough to capture them. So he switched to wax encaustic. This ancient medium, made of heated beeswax mixed with pigment, dries almost immediately, preserving and showing every brushstroke.
This painting was the first of about 100 works that Johns has said were inspired by the dream of the American flag, the painting for which Johns is best known.
Jasper Johns’ flag is not just an artwork; it has become one of the most important symbols in the American art. When the first flag was released, critics were unsure whether it was a painted flag or a painting of a flag; Johns later said it was both. For this reason, this work is often described as a piece of Neo-Dadaist and Conceptual art. Due to the playfully subversive appropriation and use of a commonplace icon, it also anticipates aspects of Pop Art.
This print, Two Flags, represents two vertical flags and it shows how the artist used to produce flags through variations of not only palette but also position, and repetition, divorcing the flag from its symbolic meaning and focusing on the materials and on the concept.
Initially serving as a means of emphasizing the physical properties of an object by draining it of color and emotions (he often used to say that he liked “to paint with no emotions“), the artist’s employment of gray has evolved into a larger concern. Gray, black, and white exist in Johns’ work not just as colors, but also as ideas and materials. Jasper Johns, indeed, believed the process to be the most important part of making an artwork (This fact led him to experiment with countless media, such as oil, encaustic, ink, pencil, collage and relief, and a prolific career in print making).
In November 2014 one of Johns’ encaustic flag paintings was auctioned off for $36,000,000 at Sotheby’s New York.