US painter, sculptor, and printmaker, who was a forerunner of pop art. He was awarded the USA's National Medal of the Arts in 1990.
Johns was brought up in South Carolina and attended the University of South Carolina. After brief service in the army he settled in New York (1952), where he painted while supporting himself by doing display work for large stores. Some of his best-known paintings – the series of Flags, Targets, and Numbers – were produced in the mid-1950s. Using mainly traditional painting techniques, Johns depicted completely flat, commonplace, and universally recognized images, such as the US flag. This search for an impersonal art can be seen as a radical reaction to abstract expressionism, which was the current avant-garde movement, as well as his questioning of the nature of art. His use of rich encaustic (wax-based) paint helped to focus attention on the act of painting, as did his later inclusion of objects from his studio, which he affixed to the canvas. At the same time visual ambiguity played an important part in his work: for example, the word ‘red’ would appear in a painting but the letters of the word would be blue. In the late 1950s Johns began to produce sculptures consisting of exact reproductions of such objects as beer cans and light bulbs cast in bronze. He has exhibited widely in Europe, the USA, and Japan. He has also collaborated with Merce Cunningham (1919– ) and John Cage on various dance projects.