1930–, American artist, b. Augusta, Ga. Influenced by Marcel Duchamp in the mid-1950s, Johns attempted to transform common objects into art by placing them in an art context. Along with his close friends Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham, Johns eschewed the idea of the artist-hero and embraced the experimental, the accidental, and the everyday—aesthetic approaches that became extremely influential in contemporary arts.
His flags and target images executed from 1954 to 1959 heralded the pop art movement. Other recurring motifs, which continued into the 1960s, include his beautifully delineated numerals, letters, and maps of the United States. Acclaimed for his painterly touch, Johns based his technique on the informal brushwork and texture of abstract expressionism, sometimes attaching literal elements such as rulers and brooms to the canvas.
His bronze castings, such as Beer Cans (1960), are also derived from common objects. His critically acclaimed abstract crosshatch paintings of the 1970s were followed by the allusion-filled, self-referential works of the 1980s and 90s, e.g., the four Seasons (1985–86), which use recurrent motifs as symbols to pull the viewer into engagement with the works. Many of his spare paintings of the early 2000s incorporate real or painted catenaries (curves created by cords hanging from two points), others echo the flagstonelike motifs he used several decades earlier. Throughout his career, Johns has also created drawings and a variety of prints.