Facts You Did Not Know About Jasper Jones’s Flag (1954-1955)

The flag is like a great American novel that hides the truth about the different narratives and lives of Americans and it raises the question about painter's patriotism.

Flag by Jasper Jones

Flag (1954-1955) is the most notable work of the American artist, Jasper Jones. He painted this particular piece called ‘Flag’ in 1954 or some believe that it was painted in 1955. This painting has become the most expensive painting by a living artist and one of the most expensive paintings of all time. This is also one of the reasons for which Jasper is called the ‘foremost artist of the United States. You would be surprised that Jones was obsessed with the American flag and he made more than 40 paintings on this single object. In 2014, Sotbays auction sold this piece to the Museum of Modern Art for a staggering $36 million. Currently, this expensive piece of art is in the New York Museum of Arts. There are numerous speculations about Flag and we will directly focus on that.

Jasper Jones Left American Army Before Making Flag

It has been a long-speculated fact that Jasper Jones made this painting right after he got fired by the US Army. Jones Army days were not satisfactory and after two years of service, he left the army.  During the US-Korean war, he was expecting to join the war but unfortunately was sent to South Carolina. But soon after joining in Carolina, he got an opportunity to serve in Japan during his desired Korean War participation. This event might have influenced him for picking up this object. Though he said that he dreamed about the flag which made him chose this subject matter. Since our dreams are the projection of our subconscious, Jasper’s dream might have a connection to his Army days. Even this Army day experiences are the great influence of the painting’s hidden political overtone.  

Painted with Encaustic Method Mounted on Plywood

Encaustic is a very ancient method of painting where pigments used to be suspended on hot wax. The Egyptian painters used to follow this form of painting tactics to give the object a more realistic look. This painting style was used for mummy portraits in Egyptian culture which gives a realistic exposure to the objects. Similarly, Jasper Jones also believed that the Flag should look realistic and the difference between the original fabric flag should not be understood. This gigantic piece is a canvas painted with oil and newsprint collage. The most interestingly, the painter has adapted the Egyptian method for mounting those three separate canvases on plywood. The measurement of this painting is 42.2 inches by 60.6 inches.        

Confusion Between Flag and Painting

Among many other speculations, Jones’s Flag has also raised a question of its status if it is a Flag or a painting? Though there is no conclusive answer to this question yet the painter himself answered this question saying it is both. If we want to prove that this is both, we get to understand this painting deeply. The painting apparently lacks the artistic maneuver. Because on theoretical ground, despite being a postmodern, Dadaist, or surrealist painting it looks identical and the same as the flag itself. And from this viewpoint, we can clearly say that this a flag.

Nevertheless, if you really go deep into this painting, you will see what you are looking for and what a painting requires. Every feature of a visionary artwork is present in this painting and on this ground, we can say that this is a painting. Eventually, Flag is the both which is the most mystifying fact about this artwork.

Flag is a Work of Jasper’s Dream   

According to the painter himself, he had a dream where he was painting the American Flag. The dream is the influence behind the entire flag journey and he seems to be very obsessed. After realizing his instinct and the spirit of the Flag, he destroyed almost every artwork he did before because he found his spirit that will establish him as an artist. He believed that the American national flag was the object and the spirit of his work. He did not do this thinking he was an artist rather he painted this and aspired to be an artist. To put in his own word, he said, “done with the spirit that I wanted to be an artist, not that I was an artist.” All the paintings of flags by Jasper Jones are famous and got critical and artistic success which makes his dream worth the try.

Half Visible Newsprint Collage: Patriotic or Opposite

Collage of Newsprint are clearly visible. All are headlines of Jasper’s time.

Jones’s lucidly lark half-visible stories come in a collage in the painting hidden beneath the thick brush strokes. Except for the blue canton with 48 starts, the painting contains a lot of newsprint headlines from Jasper’s time. Some say they are all selected randomly but these news cuts are the conscious choice of the painter to show political events. This is why this painting is considered unpatriotic. The flag is the starting of Jasper’s career and the artistic revelation when it was showed in the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1958.

The question of its status as patriotic or unpatriotic was raised and a lot of people started pointing out the truth behind the painter’s approach. This matter also shocked the collector. Alfred Barr was the then director of Museum of Modern Art who was concerned about its auspicious political overtones. Despite the fact, he bought the painting through his friend to avoid any criticism.

This painting serves the purpose of a great American novel and hides the truth about the different narratives and lives of Americans. Beneath the stars and thirteen stripes, there are a lot deeper down the flag and this painting shows the façade concealed truth with a ghostly monumental depth. To remark on this very matter artiest Alfred Billy Al Bengston said that, “It is just that it was so blatantly in your face, they were not chicken shit.” A lot of critics believe that it was both the patriotic and unpatriotic act by the painter.

Flag Represents Neo-Dada and Abstract Expressionism

Jones is often considered as Neo-Dadaist who entirely focused on something the mind already knows and picking up the Flag. This is already an approach to modern and abstract expressionism. Proto-Pop was another identification of the artist’s work later in the 1960s. As defined by critics, artists who are frustrated with the tone of pop art created during Jones’s time. This abstract expressionist art is not just promoting the theory rather it is in a quest of provoking viewers to raise a question about the fixed perception. It is not just the Flag (1954-55) but all the other flags painting by this living artist are representing abstract expressionism and the White Flag goes deeper into this theoretical genre.

Among the total of more than 40 Flag paintings, Flag (1954-1955), the Three Flags and White Flag are the most prominent and all these three have different perspective yet the Flag is quite the famous on its own merit and because of the newspaper prints hidden in his strong and bold brush strokes. These facts change depending on the viewpoint and perspective of the individual group. After more than half a century, Flag still remains speculative and Jones also did not clear the entire fact about this work. Nevertheless, this abstract modern expressionist painting falls under many genres of that time and remains the greatest piece of art by a living artist.