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Modern Art Patriotic: Jasper Johns’ Americana


With the July Fourth holiday upon us, I thought it the perfect time to pay a short tribute to one of America’s greatest living artists: Jasper Johns (b.1930).

Born in Georgia and having spent his early years in the South, Johns moved to New York in 1949 and briefly studied at Parsons before serving in Japan during the Korean War.  He returned to New York in 1954 to find an incredibly vibrant art scene.  Joining other great 20th Century masters such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Johns’ style rejected the abstraction that had dominated art before the war and instead took inspiration from the Pop Art movement developing around him.



Johns’ American Flag of 1960 (main image) is a prime example of his distinct take on Pop Art.  Taken from a dream he had of the American flag, he takes the iconic image and “roughs” it up to show Old Glory with all her battle scars.  Rather than use oil on canvas, Johns used an ancient and little used technique, encaustic, which is hot wax mixed with pigment.  Johns said he switched to this method because the drying process was faster and he required something that dried in minutes and not in hours as oils so often do.

School textbook maps that one colors as a kid inspired the image from Johns’ “Interpretative Map of the USA”, 1961(second image).  The artist paints swirls across the map blurring state borders in lush mixes of red, yellow and blue.  There is a much more random quality to this piece than, for example, the more calculated Flag painting.  Here paint was allowed to drip and fall haphazardly.  Johns said his technique on this painting represented the “casual” aspects of life.



Johns used a much more controlled technique in his “Two Maps I” of 1966.  Almost looking like an x-ray, this single work is actually a lithograph (print) in which he depicts the same image twice though printed in 2 different ways – the first blurred; the second more distinct.  As in his works above, Johns is inviting the viewer to look closely at something we all easily recognize without “reading” it for information, but to appreciate it for what it is.

Happy 4 of July!


image credits: Flag – Christie’s; Colored Map – Richard Rabel; Black and White lithograph – MOMA, New York.

The Modern Sybarite

Interior Designer, art advisor and blogger, Richard Rabel brings fresh perspectives on art + design for today’s interior in his blog TheModernSybarite.

Based in New York City, Richard is consistently asked by his clients for advice on art, design and decoration and ultimately provides clients with livable, warm and unique interiors that reflect a 21st century lifestyle based on his rich experience in fine and decorative art of all periods.

A multi-linguist with a ten-year career as a senior director and specialist with Christie’s, the London-based global auction house, Richard has lived in seven countries and has had access to some of the most exquisite and exclusive spaces.  From San Francisco to Mexico City, Sao Paulo to Geneva, Istanbul to Delhi and Sydney to Shanghai, the breadth of his travels has cultivated his eye and contributed to defining his exacting taste and modern aesthetic.
The Modern Sybarite

  • Kim Renton

    I wasn’t familiar with the map series. Thank you for sharing such patriotic pieces.

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