Jasper Johns has been a central figure in modern and contemporary art since the 1950s. Born in Augusta, Georgia, and raised in South Carolina, Johns wanted to be an artist at an early age. After attending classes at Parsons School of Design and serving in the army during the Korean War, Johns moved permanently to New York in 1953. There, he worked as an artist and belonged to an intimate circle of friends that included artist Robert Rauschenberg, composer John Cage, and dancer Merce Cunningham.
Johns’s exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1958 was a major turning point in his career; his depictions of everyday subjects—“things the mind already knows”—pulled away from the grandeur of Abstract Expressionism and paved the way for Pop Art and Minimalism. The Museum of Modern Art purchased three pieces from the show, a feat which opened many new opportunities for Johns. For over 50 years, Johns has challenged the possibilities of printmaking, painting, and sculpture, laying the groundwork for a wide range of experimental artists. Some of the iconic motifs that Johns has interpreted throughout his career include: flags, targets, numbers, ale cans, maps of the U.S., the crosshatch pattern, and, more recently, the catenary curve and gestures from American Sign Language.
His works have been exhibited in major museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Kunstmuseum Basel. He represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1988 and was awarded the Grand Prix. He was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011. Johns currently lives and works in Sharon, Connecticut, New York, and the Caribbean island of Saint Martin.