The American flag kindles a response in everyone. The flag also holds personal meaning for Jasper Johns, who was named for an ancestor famous for rescuing a flag during the Revolutionary War. Yet in Flag, Johns charges us to look beyond the image to the application of paint itself, which is as important a subject for the artist as any recognizable theme.
This painting contains an actual silk flag, collaged on the canvas, as its base layer. Johns then painted an image of the flag on top using encaustic, a sticky medium of colored pigment mixed with hot wax. Encaustic emphasizes each brushstroke and individualizes each star, animating Flag’s entire surface.
Throughout his career, Johns has returned to the same subjects again and again: flags, targets, letters, and numbers. These images, recognizable to everyone, but divorced from their original context, were a way for Johns to focus our attention on the thing itself: the painting. His work also helped to introduce popular imagery as a subject for art.