born May 15, 1930,
Augusta, Ga., U.S.
American painter and graphic artist who is generally associated with the
Pop art movement.
Johns studied briefly (1947–48) at the University of South Carolina at
Columbia and then moved to New York City to pursue a career as an artist.
In1954 he became friends with Robert Rauschenberg, and that year he began
his series of paintings of American flags. His first one-man show, held at
the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City in 1958, was a resounding
The paintings Johns went on to produce depict commonplace, two-dimensional
subjects such as flags, targets, maps, numbers, and letters of the
alphabet, all readily recognizable and painted in simple colours. He was
able to raise these objects to the level of icons through his paint
handling and an extremely sensitive manipulation of surface texture, which
he obtained by the encaustic technique, in which pigments are mixed with
hot liquid wax. In their willful and ironic banality and their rejection
of emotional expression, these early works were a radical departure from
the Abstract Expressionist styles that dominated the American art scene at
the time. Johns's unabashed depiction of commonplace emblems and objects
was emulated by many Pop Art artists; one of Johns's best-known works is a
cast sculpture of two Ballantine Ale cans, “Painted Bronze” (1960).
From 1961 Johns began to affix real objects to the surface of his
canvases. While continuing to paint numbers, flags, and labels through the
early 1960s, he also began to incorporate more fluid brushstrokes and
rawer paint textures in such works as “Diver” (1962). Changing his style
in the 1970s, he produced near-monochrome paintings composed of clusters
of parallel lines that he called “crosshatchings.” The paintings he did in
the 1980s contain both figural elements and autobiographical references.