Flags, Beer And Targets: Jasper Johns At Royal Academy Of Arts

Jasper Johns, Royal Academy of Arts ★★★★☆

Flags, Beer And Targets: Jasper Johns At Royal Academy Of Arts Jasper Johns, Royal Academy of Arts 4
One of his most iconic works is the American Flag and several variations are in the show. © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg c The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, 2017

American flags, bronze cans of ale and targets. All symbols of everyday America and yet get close up and imperfections become visible. These slight changes make you look at familiar items in a new light and examine them instead of taking them for granted.

Welcome to the brilliant and immersive world of Jasper Johns, one of the most influential artists of the last century and one who is still creating art even today well into his 80s. The Royal Academy of Arts has mounted a massive retrospective with over 150 works spanning his career over seven decades.

The targets are also one of his more recognisable works and the use of colour or grayscale determines how we observe it. The Art Institute of Chicago © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London. Photo: c 2017. The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY / Scala, Florence

His work is all about asking people to take another look at the familiar and to discover something new within the nuances. That might sound dry and academic, but it never feels that way as his work is bold and eye-catching; there's an initial jolt and a secondary reward for the more attentive viewer.

The American flag appears bright and resplendent in one work and then grey or cut in half in another. Johns asks whether it now symbolises something completely different from its past or has it lost all meaning altogether? That these works were created during the Cold War when America would've been at peak patriotism, highlights how powerful this statement was.

The balls looks back at us like eyes. Are you really seeing this work? © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg c The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, 2017

Two balls hold two sections of canvas apart as if they are eyes looking back at us, almost accusatory, asking if we've really looked at the painting or simply dismissed it as something colourful and visually pleasing. The gauntlet is laid down to critics as a pair of spectacles has mouths inside each lens, questioning if even critics really see art before they espouse their opinions.

His later works became more abstract and expressive. © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg c The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, 2017

His later career is where Johns becomes more abstract and expressive, with the added third dimension of incorporating brooms, neon and rulers into his work. The later works often lack the punch and focus of his earlier works. However, there are still some thoughtful paintings here, including ones that incorporate his shadows as his physical presence now moves into his work, while earlier it was only his thoughts and emotions within the art.

His own self starting to become part of the works themselves. © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017. c 2017. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

Even though his theme of observing the everyday still shines through in all of his work, we see how it has evolved and this diversity is what makes a monster show so enjoyable.

Johns incorporates everyday items into his work such as this broom. © Jasper Johns / VAGA, New York / DACS, London 2017

Some visitors may struggle with the fact Jasper Johns work is not always the most immediately accessible but quiet contemplation in front of his art pays dividends. It's always difficult for an artist to create introspective work that can also have wider appeal to others and in our minds Jasper Johns gets this balance spot on in this impressive show.

Jasper Johns: 'Something resembling truth at Royal Academy of Arts is on from 23 September - 10 December. Tickets are £17 for adults (£12 at off-peak times).

Last Updated 20 September 2017