|Jasper Johns Flag 1954-55|
"One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag," Johns said, "and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it." Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint - a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a quivering surface of lumps and smears. The legible newspaper scraps beneath the tactile surface - some dating from 1955 and 1956, when Johns repaired the painting - lend the timeless, public icon historical specificity. While this image is something "the mind already knows," Johns acknowledged, its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection. A critic of the time encapsulated this painting's ambivalence by asking, "Is this a flag or a painting?"