A painting can act simultaneously as a collection of parts (i.e. "the left part," "the top part"), and as a singular entity that transcends the sum of its parts. Some paintings really totter on the brink of being a whole. Use the minimum of skin to hold together. With Johns, the feat feels generous. Here are a variety of parts that we can play with, take in different sequences, in the flow of perception. Johns's repetition of the face/vase motif re-affirms his interest in this active style of viewership that requires time. Physiologically, one can't perceive the faces and the vase simultaneously; the only way to see both is in different moments, and by focusing one’s attention on different parts.
Johns engages us in the construction of his images.
Within a series, paintings repeat a single composition, each version bringing out and camouflaging different parts. It’s almost a game; each version offers different clues which the viewer can piece together to get the whole story. The versions present different realities of a set of objects--the interior of a room, a bed, a figure--like Monet’s haystacks or cathedrals. But overall, Johns’s paintings feel too rooted in the pleasure of invention to be simply about different optical experiences of a thing.