Jasper Johns was one of the most influential American painters of the 20th century who produced over 40 versions of the American flag. Johns created the first, Flag, in 1954 at the age of 24, two years after he was discharged from the Army.
To give you some context, the US flag was often the news headline in 1954 - then President Dwight Eisenhower signed an amendment to the pledge of allegiance on Flag Day to add the words 'under God', the McCarthy hearings took place three days after Flag Day, the year was the 175th anniversary of the birthday of Francis Scott Key, who composed The Star Spangled Banner. The Iowa Jima Marine Memorial was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery. Johns and his father were both named after Sgt. William Jasper who saved the fallen flag of the Americans in the Revolutionary War. And in 1954, our country had 48 states - the 49th and 50th, Alaska and Hawaii, would join the United States of America in 1959.
To appreciate Johns' Flag, you must get close up. It is made using oil paints, encaustic (wax mixed with pigment) and newsprint, which is visible under the red and white stripes. There is no hidden meaning in the texts of the newsprint, purposely Johns selected non-political or national news. Jasper Johns aimed to paint 'things the mind already knows', relieving him of creating new design and focusing on the execution instead.
The painting was exhibited in Johns' first solo show in 1958 where the director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred Barr, wanted to buy it but was worried how it may look so he persuaded a friend to buy it instead, and he donated it to the museum in honor of Barr when he retired.
I'm home from a road trip up to Virginia to visit with family and got to visit the National Portrait Gallery in DC while we were there. This museum, connected to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art is somewhat overlooked by visitors because it's not on the Mall with numerous other great museums, but it is SO worth it.
Credit to my sister-in-law, who took the photo for this new painting - a young man viewing an abstract expressionism painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which I can't find the title to.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a young, prolific artist who created most of his work during the 80's. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960, he was a talented artist at a young age, encouraged by his mother, fluent in French, Spanish and English. His parents separated when he was eight, returned to his mother's home in Puerto Rico for a couple of years then returned to New York City. He was 13 when his mother was committed to a mental institution and Jean-Michel's troubled teen years began. When he dropped out of high school, his father banished him from the family's home and he stayed with friends, supporting himself by selling artwork and T-shirts.
Basquiat went from homelessness and unemployement to selling his paintings for up to $25,000 in a matter of several years. He produced around 600 paintings, 1500 drawings and sculptures in his short life and died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose.
To summarize Basquiat's life, his experiences, the magic of pure fate that shaped his future, would take up an entire book. I think he was a genius way before his time, but he lived in the right time for his artistic talents to be seen and heard. He once described his art as 80% anger and to be described from then on by critics as "80% anger and 20% mystery".
Just one more plug for if you're in Washington DC - go to the National Portrait Gallery. The museum redid the President's portraits gallery and it's most excellent. Especially the portrait of President Obama, by Kehinde Wiley. It brought tears to my eyes.
"You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is... unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far." ~ Alice Neel
"If I had the energy, I would have done it all over the country" - Edward Hopper
"It's what you carry to an object that counts." - Andrew Wyeth
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"When I'm old and gray, I want to have a house by the sea. And paint. With a lot of wonderful chums, good music, and booze around. And a damn good kitchen to cook in."