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Artist Spotlight: Ray Johnson
Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was a seminal Pop Art figure in the 1950s, an early conceptualist, and a pioneer of mail art. His preferred medium was collage, that quintessentially twentieth-century art form that reflects the increased (as the century wore on) collision of disparate visual and verbal information that bombards modern man.
Integrating texts and images drawn from a multiplicity of sources—from mass media to telephone conversations—Johnson’s innovativeness spread beyond the confines of the purely visual. He staged what Suzi Gablik described as perhaps the “first informal happening” and moved into mail art, artist books, graphic design, and sculpture, working in all modes simultaneously.
Johnson not only operated in what Robert Rauschenberg famously called “the gap between art and life,” he erased the distinction between them. His entire being—a reflection of his obsessively creative mind—was actually one continuous “work of art.” Ray Johnson’s works reflect his encyclopedic erudition, his promiscuous range of interests, and an uncanny proto-Google ability to discover connections between a myriad of images, facts and people.
Throughout his career, Johnson sought out the random and the ephemeral, incorporating chance communications into his artistic practice. Johnson gradually built up an informal, hybrid network with whom he exchanged ideas and artworks by means of the postal system. By the early 1960s, the “New York Correpond(a)nce School,” Johnson’s virtual ‘school’ of correspondents had become an international network, prefiguring the social networking of today. Now, 25 years after Johnson’s death, the New York Correspond(a)ence School lives on as a global network of individuals who exchange mail art though the postal system. Participating ARS member artists have included Lynda Benglis, James Rosenquist, Martin Roth, and Andy Warhol.