Painting of American flag by artist Jasper Johns on display at Royal Academy in London

‘Flag’ 1958, Jasper Johns. Courtesy: The Art Institute of Chicago.

Collage of grey paint and broom by American artist Jasper Johns: Fool's House

‘Fool’s House’ 1961-62, Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns is one of the most influential artists in America’s contemporary art scene, known for his appropriation and defamiliarization of everyday objects, most notably the US flag, which Johns first painted in 1954.  ‘Something Resembling Truth’ at the Royal Academy, London is the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s work to be held in the UK in 40 years. Spread across several large galleries, the exhibition confidently steers us through Johns’ career beginning with his iconic symbols, including several versions of his famous stars and stripes. Yet, more intriguing, as is so often the case, are the works that come later: dark, morbid collages with decapitated limbs and limp, inanimate objects that force us to recognise the paintings as objects themselves.

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Three colourful canvases prised open by two balls by American contemporary artist Jasper Johns

‘Painting with Two Balls’ 1960, Jasper Johns. Collection of the artist.

In ‘Painting with Two Balls’, the canvases are prised open with small balls, resembling the googly-eyes of a rainbow coloured cartoon monster, to expose the wall behind, whilst ‘Watchman’ depicts the sawn off legs of a figure sitting upside down on chair with colours merging into a shadowy gloom. Johns challenges our perceptions by grabbing hold of the familiar, stretching, mutating, chewing it up and spitting it back out again. It’s an exhibition that deserves time and consideration.

Millie Walton

“Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth” runs until 10th December at the Royal Academy, London