Jasper Johns “Two Flags Black

As Esther Sparks recalls, “Johns’s encounter with the lithographic stone was one of the great miracles.”[1] Johns was a painter and painted with encaustic because it “’keeps the character of each brushstroke, even in layers’”[2]; however, he then discovered lithography, how the stones “could retain the memory of the preceding ones,” how he could erase, and “what he could do to complicate the process.”[3] Though screen-printing was not taken seriously at that time, Johns took advantage of the technique to create a print that has hints of spontaneity through the mark making, when “the execution was orderly and rational.”[4] The chaotic sense of the scratches and marks that cover the print of the two flags create a hectic vibe; however, “to achieve such ordered spontaneity required enormous effort from the artist.”[5] With the use of the lithograph, Johns was able to boost the density of the paint in certain areas of the print, such as the corners and edges. The difference in density causes the eye to notice the marks and scratches in specific places, throughout the stripes in the corners, and lessening the chaos of the marks when the eye reaches the center of the print. Because the print is of two flags rather than one, the center of the print is the merging of the two flags, where the paint thins and the squiggly marks meet the smoothness of the stripes. Though Johns prints the same flag twice, one on top of the other, the flags differ in the placement of marks and the thickness of the paint, perhaps expressing Johns’ conflicting or divided portrayal of America. Through the many different choices Johns made for Two Flags Black, compared to the rest of his flag prints, he conveyed a new image of America and perhaps of his own life.


[1] Sparks, Esther. Universal Limited Art Editions: A History and Catalogue, the First Twenty-five Years. Chicago, IL: Art Institute of Chicago, 1989. Print.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Sparks, Esther. Universal Limited Art Editions: A History and Catalogue, the First Twenty-five Years. Chicago, IL: Art Institute of Chicago, 1989. Print.

[5] Wesleyan University. Jasper Johns: Prints 1970-1997. Middletown, CT: The Meriden Gravure Copany, 1978. Print.

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