Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Jason Collett – "Jasper Johns' Flag" (2012)

Jasper Johns
In a dream he saw

What artist Jasper Johns saw in that dream was an American flag, of course.

That dream inspired him to create over 40 works of art based on the good ol' Stars and Stripes – including “Flags I,” a screenprint that was published in an edition of 65 (plus an artists’ proof) in 1973.

Jasper Johns, "Flags I" (1973)
Collection of Robert and Jane Meyerhoff
© Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
[Note: All the images used in this post were provided by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.]

"Flags I" is one of the 150 prints featured in “Three Centuries of American Prints from the National Gallery of Art,” an exhibition which opened Sunday at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  (The NGA owns some 22,500 American prints.)

In addition to Jasper Johns, a number of other iconic American artists are represented in the NGA exhibition, including John James Audubon, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol. 

“Prints are often described as a democratic artistic medium,” according to an NGA handout distributed at the exhibition’s press preview, which I attended last week.  “They are relatively inexpensive to purchase and can be distributed widely.”

The older prints in the exhibition are “didactic and reportorial” in nature.  A number feature dramatic American landscapes or the exotic flora and fauna of the New World, such as this magnificent 40” x 27” print of the American white pelican from Audubon’s The Birds of America:

Robert Havell, Jr., after John James Audubon
"American White Pelican" (1836)

Gift of Mrs. Walter B. James
After the Civil War, some of America’s most prominent artists – including Mary Cassatt – utilized printmaking to create fine art.

Mary Cassatt, "Woman Bathing" (1890-91)
Gift of Mrs. Lessing J. Rosenwald
During the Great Depression, artists made prints to promote social and political causes.  Printmaking was art for the common man – as Thomas Hart Benton put it, it was “not something for the few, but for all.”

Grant Wood, "Shrine Quartet" (1939)
Reba and David Williams Collection, Florian Carr Fund,
and Gift of the Print Research Foundation
The exhibition contains a number of prints from the sixties, when many younger artists rejected highbrow art (like abstract expressionism) and embraced pop culture.  

Roy Lichtenstein, "Sweet Dreams, Baby!" (1965)Gift of Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
The curators of “Three Centuries of American Prints” believe that American art in the last few decades has been characterized by its “eclectic, pluralistic spirit.”  

If you had to choose just one artist to symbolize that eclecticism and pluralism, you could do worse than to pick Jasper Johns.  

Johns created over 40 works of art based on the American flag.  The first of them, “Flag,” is a large painting inspired by a dream Johns said he had in 1954:

One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag, and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.

Similar but much smaller flag paintings that Johns painted years later sold at auction in 2010 and 2014 for $28.6 million and $36.0 million, respectively.

Hedge fund manager Steven Cohen reportedly paid $110 million for a 1958 Johns flag painting.

If you're not a hedge fund manager, the exhibition poster featuring the Johns "Flags I" print is available in the NGA gift shop at a very modest price.

*  *  *  *  *

Singer-songwriter Jason Collett grew up in a Toronto suburb.  He has released eight solo albums.

“Jasper Johns’ Flag” is from his 2012 album, Reckon.

Here’s “Jasper Johns’ Flag”:

Click below to buy it from Amazon:

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