Three Flags, 1958
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
In the mid-1950s, Jasper Johns began to explore the boundaries between abstraction and representation through the use of familiar symbols. He described his subjects as “things the mind already knows.” In this work, he shifts the visual emphasis from the emblematic significance of the American flag to the geometry of its pattern and the variegated surface of the picture. Johns created the sensuous texture of Three Flags with encaustic paint, a mixture of pigment suspended in warm wax, which congeals shortly after being applied. The three canvases, stacked directly on top of one another and projecting outward, challenge conventional definitions of painting by making the viewer aware of the work as first and foremost an object.