13 December 2006

Jasper Johns

Sorry to be so self-referential, but I also promised in the very comment thread that inspired yesterday’s musings to tell you all what I think about Jasper John’s White Flag. So, here’s a bit about that.

Most of what I know about Jasper Johns actually is stuff that I came across entirely unintentionally. He was one of Warhol’s contemporaries, and because of that, a lot of books about one mention the other. They were both significant, distinct forces. Anyway, Johns was really young when he became really famous and that somehow seems to have worked out. Warhol, by all accounts was envious of Johns, and his early work reflects that—some flattery-in-the-form-of-imitation, if you will. Johns’ paintings have been sold for more money than those of any other painter alive today. The most expensive one? 80 million. And they say the arts don’t pay.

Anyway, the cool things about White Flag are numerous. Most of these start with the flag itself and all the messages that they bring with them. Move it into the art scene of the mid 1950s, with its cares and concerns and those messages multiply.

Flags. They’re like pictographs, really. Any *real* American can tell you that there are 13 stripes for the 13 colonies that broke away from Britain, 50 stars represent each of the current states. We also have so much associated with this flag—seeing it draped over the coffins of dead soldiers and presidents, flown at half-mast, waved proudly every July 4th, Memorial and Veteran’s Day. We watched it be burned in acts of civil disobedience and International protest. We’ve seen it printed in the kitschiest fashion on t-shirts and coffee mugs. We even have songs about our flag.

So the US flag is a loaded symbol, particularly for Americans but (risking arrogance yet knowing I’m right) for every one else too. Merge that flag with white and suddenly you have all the connotations of surrender. I wonder if he was going for that or if he was instead exploring the design of the flag, maybe in an effort to assert that his painting isn’t a flag at all. It's a painting.


Matthew said...

"risking arrogance yet knowing I’m right"

Beautiful =)

Josh said...

if you're taking requests, i'm wondering if you would do a post about rauschenberg's erased de koonig drawing...

Mary Ann said...

I am taking requests, but you'll have to wait until I run out of ideas - which means I'll probably do it tomorrow.