Flag – Jasper Johns Masterpiece
American born, Jasper Johns, painted Flag from 1954 to 1955. This collage on fabric mounted on plywood has long become a staple of 20th century American Art.
“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns said, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and got the materials to begin it.”
Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint – a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a quivering surface of lumps and smears.
The legible newspaper scraps beneath the tactile surface – some dating from 1955 and 1956, when Johns repaired the painting – lend the timeless, public icon historical specificity. While this image is something “the mind already knows,” Johns acknowledged, its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection.
A critic of the time encapsulated this painting’s ambivalence by asking, “Is this a flag or a painting?”