United States of Jasper Johns

John Yau, Author Zoland Books $16.95 (124p) ISBN 978-0-944072-75-2

If you already have a weighty, profusely illustrated book on the artist Jasper Johns but are still a little bemused, this is the book to buy. Writer and curator Yau (Forbidden Entries) flinches at no aspect of a career he follows from ""Flag,"" the 1955 piece in which Johns recreated a physical representation but stripped it of its patina of memories, to ""After Holbein,"" a work he derived in 1993 from a sixteenth-century portrait that is now so faded that the subject's features have disappeared. Having interviewed the notoriously private artist over a period of 15 years, Yau is especially effective at tying the art's content to anecdotes from Johns's life. For example, the melted encaustic that is part of the artist's 1975 ""Weeping Women,"" he says, derives from a story that the artist had heard about Picasso, who once described Willem de Kooning's ""Woman"" paintings as melted Picasso. In graceful, accessible prose, Yau deciphers the many art-historical sources within Johns's art as well as the artist's cryptic notes. A published poet, Yau is capable of crafting the single phrase, such as ""visual echo,"" that describes the activity within Johns's work. The publication's sole lapse is its lack of any color reproductions of Johns's work or illustrations of works by the lesser-known artists who have influenced him. Given the personal and artistic conundrums that Yau unravels, that omission is small. (May)