Jasper Johns grew up in South Carolina. He was drafted into the army and stationed in Japan. Between 1949 and 1951 he studied at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. From 1952 to 1958 he worked in a bookshop in New York. He also did display work with Robert Rauschenberg for Bonwit Teller and Tiffany.
In 1954 he painted his first flag picture. He had his first one-man exhibition in 1958 at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. He was represented at the Venice Biennale during the same year. His picture Grey Numbers also won the International Prize at thePittsburgh Biennale. In 1959 he took part with Rauschenberg inAllan Kaprow's Happening Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts. He was included in the collective exhibition Sixteen Americans in the same year at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1960 he began working with lithographs.
In 1961 he did his first large map picture and travelled to Parisfor an exhibition at the Galerie Rive Droite. In 1964 he was given a comprehensive retrospective at the Jewish Museum, New York. The catalog included texts by John Cage and Alan Solomon. He was represented at the Venice Biennale in the same year. In 1965 he had a retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum, organized by Walter Hopps. During the same year he saw a Duchamp exhibition and won a prize at the 6th International Exhibition of Graphic Art, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia. In 1966 he had a one-person exhibition of drawings at the National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington DC.
In 1967 he rented a loft in Canal Street and painted Harlem Light using a tile motif. He also illustrated Frank O'Hara's book of poems "In Memory of My Feelings". He was Artistic Adviser for the composer John Cage and Merce Cunningham's Dance Company until 1972, collaborating with Robert Morris, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and Bruce Nauman. In that year he was represented at the documenta "4", Kassel, designed costumes for Merce Cunningham's "Walkaround Time" and spent seven weeks at the printers Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles. In 1973 he met Samuel Beckett in Paris. He moved to Stony Point, N.Y.
He was given a comprehensive retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1977, shown in 1978 at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, Hayward Gallery, London, and Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo. He was represented at the Venice Biennale in 1978. In 1979 the Kunstmuseum Basle put on an exhibition of his graphic work which toured Europe. In 1988 he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Venice Biennale.