Born in Augusta, Georgia, Jasper Johns spent his early life in Allendale, South Carolina with his paternal grandparents after his parents marriage failed. He then spent a year living with his mother in Columbia, South Carolina and thereafter he spent several years living with his aunt Gladys in Lake Murray, South Carolina, twenty-two miles from Columbia. He completed high school in Sumter, South Carolina, where he once again lived with his mother. Recounting this period in his life, he says, “In the place where I was a child, there were no artists and there was no art, so I really didn’t know what that meant. I think I thought it meant that I would be in a situation different than the one that I was in.” He began drawing when he was three and has continued doing art ever since.
Johns studied at the University of South Carolina from 1947 to 1948, a total of three semesters. He then moved to New York City and studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design in 1949. While in New York, Johns met Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he had a relationship, as well as Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Working together they explored the contemporary art scene, and began developing their ideas on art. In 1963, Johns and Cage founded Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, now known as Foundation for Contemporary Arts in New York City. In 1952 and 1953 he was stationed in Sendai, Japan during the Korean War.
In 1958, gallery owner Leo Castelli discovered Johns while visiting Rauschenberg’s studio. Castelli gave him his first solo show. It was here that Alfred Barr, the founding director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, purchased four works from his exhibition.
Johns currently lives in Sharon, Connecticut and the Island of Saint Martin.