|Three Flags, 1958, Jasper Johns|
Johns claims that he had a dream one night that he was painting a flag. Not one to take such forms of inspiration lightly, he did so, in effect, "fulfilling his dream". The interaction of dreams and reality as applied to Pop art is unique, to say the least. It also adds a unique perspective to a painting that otherwise might border on the bland at best, and trite at worst. It's hard to imagine an image more fraught with symbolism than the American flag, yet Johns steadfastly claims no symbolic meaning to his work. It is merely a Pop icon with a sort of conflicting perspective operating in such a way to at least briefly startled the viewer. The image physically juts forward while visually receding in that each overlapping image of the familiar "stars and stripes" becomes smaller.
Johns' was born in 1930 and was a good friend of Abstract/Pop transitional painter, Robert Rauschenberg. Like Rauschenberg, his work was also influence by composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. However, Johns' work, unlike Rauschenberg, was pure pop, with no traceable pedigree lines back to Abstract Expressionism other than their close friendship. Johns' work also differs from Rauschenberg's, in that it was just as likely to be sculptural as rectilinear. But always there was the removal of an everyday item--a coffee can with paint brushes protruding, a beer can, spectacles, a flashlight--into a sterile, gallery setting, framed or unframed, emphasizing not symbolism or function, but elemental design. Given the fact that much of his best Pop work was done in the late 1950s before Pop was chic, a strong case could be made for considering Jasper Johns, above all others, as the "Father of Pop Art."