Jasper Johns Interview

In a 1981 interview with Roberta Bernstein, Jasper Johns claimed “There are kinds of images that make a single impact and there are kinds of images that express themselves as a multiplicity. And there are multiple images that can’t be sensed at once, that have to be sensed separately in time as you focus on this thing or that thing. Such a changing sense of time and focus reinforces any indications of fragmentation” (Orton 17). Indeed this notion is clearly evident or rather obscure in Johns’ Two Flags. It seems as though the artist himself also only has a theoretical idea as to the meaning of his own pieces. Nevertheless, looking at other similar pop art icons of the same era such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns may have been going for a similar conceptual frame with his works. Not only do the images of the two flags portray repetition (as in Warhols Campbell Soups), it is also more powerful and thought provoking.  As scholar Rita Raley explains, “As with Nam June Paik’s multi-screen video installations, Johns moves into the realm of the untotalizable: neither a stable spectatorial position nor a fixed meaning is available. To fix on one image, one flag, one screen, one layer, is to exclude the others” (Raley 14). Hence, the use of two flags is crucial in creating composition throughout the spatial dimensions of Johns’ piece. It is interesting to note that Jasper Johns’ decision to use a black and white print for this image greatly contrasts his other works where the American flag was in full color.  This may be another explanation as to why he decided to put two flags, as a means of more emphasis on a dull color plain. Nevertheless, Johns seems to achieve this success by brining to life the various lines and images in an otherwise flat two-dimensional print. The use of two flags also brings together a sense of national pride, patriotism and spectacle during an era of anti-war protests and turmoil within the United States.

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