The Flag

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Jasper Johns’ “Flag”

Created in the age of McCarthyism, Jasper Johns’ “Flag” was the first and perhaps most popular version of his flag paintings. Johns is said to have first dreamed of the flag before painting it, but John’s painting was rich in symbolism as he liked it to the use of things the mind already knew. Done in 1954, when flag’s seemed to be everywhere in the news and as the McCarthy hearings were going on questioning the loyalty of citizens to their government, as symbolized by the flag were ending three days before Flag Day, or as President Dwight Eisenhower signed an amendment to the Constitution that added the phrasing “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Some people say that Johns had a much more personal attachment to the flag, as he was a Korean War veteran that was named for Sergeant William Jasper, a Revolutionary War hero who was famous for raising the American flag during an important battle. As a result, Jasper Johns’ flag became not only a symbol for the nation and its internal issues, but also as a link to his past, with Johns painting more than 40 images of the flag. The Flag is one of only a handful of paintings by Johns that stays true to its original iconic image of the single flag in red, white and blue as the artist tended to favor familiar objects. By selecting such a well known simple object it allowed him to focus fully on his painting technique. Johns has often said that choosing a flat, two-dimensional object “freed him” from creating a design and instead allowed him to fully engage in the painting process. Johns painted this work in encaustic, a difficult and seldom-used technique that dates back to the ancient Egyptians, in which pigment is mixed with hot wax and applied in meticulous brushstrokes to the surface. As was often his method, the artist used one of his Flag prints as a template for the Flag design, wrapping the paper around the sides of the stretcher. Johns completely covers the surface with encaustic...
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