Born in 1930 in Augusta, Georgia, Jasper Johns has been a central figure in contemporary art since he arrived in New York in the early 1950s. Johns studied at the University of South Carolina from 1947 to 1948, a total of three semesters. He then moved to New York City and studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design in 1949. In 1952 and 1953 he was stationed in Sendai, Japan during the Korean War. He soon formed relationships with Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham and began to make paintings that appropriated popular iconography—the American flag, targets, numbers, and letters—quickly announcing himself an important new artist. The Museum of Modern Art purchased three pieces from Johns’ first one-person exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1958. Throughout his career, Johns has added crosshatching, body mark making and, more recently, the catenary curve to his collection of motifs.
He is best known for his painting Flag (1954–55), which he painted after having a dream of the American flag. His work is often described as a Neo-Dadaist, as opposed to Pop Art, even though his subject matter often includes images and objects from popular culture. Still, many compilations on pop art include Jasper Johns as a pop artist because of his artistic use of classical iconography. Johns has been the subject of one-person exhibitions throughout the world, at institutions including The Museum of Modern Art and 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, winning the Golden Lion Award. On February 15, 2011 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, becoming the first painter or sculptor to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom since Alexander Calder in 1977. Johns lives and works in Sharon, Connecticut and the island of St. Martin.