(Waxy) Three American Flags (Jasper Johns)


Perhaps because the image is by now so familiar, iconic in its own right, that I never quite got Jasper Johns’ famous Three Flags (1958). I do not believe, as per the wall text, that the painting/construction shifts emphasis from “the flag’s symbolic meaning to the patterns, textures, and structure of the composition.” If anything, the repetitive structure only intensifies the symbolic portent of the flag. What sharpened my attention the other day, doing the paces through the Whitney,  was this little bit of information, also culled from the wall text. The three flags were painted with encaustic, described as a “mixture of pigment suspended in warm wax that congeals as each stroke is applied.” Hidden from the eye, that might be part of the work’s symbolic power: an image of power at mid-century created out of and encrusted by a warm, congealing, waxy fluid.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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2 Responses to (Waxy) Three American Flags (Jasper Johns)

  1. dmf says:

    a lot of that sort of art leaves me flat, i figure you had to be there/then to really get it.

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