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 Ray (Edward) Johnson  (1927 - 1995)

About: Ray (Edward) Johnson
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Michigan      Known for: collage, mail art, assemblage

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Ray Johnson is a collagist but is best known as the progenitor of mail art with his New York Correspondence School which he started in the l950s but which bloomed in the early 1960s.

Johnson was born in Michigan and went to Black Mountain College from l946 to l949, where he studied under Josef Albers. When he left to move to New York, he met the painter/photographer Norman Solomon, with whom he started walking the streets at night, collecting bits and pieces from the streets.

Norman used his collections to nail to the walls as collages; Ray used his to cut up and mail to his friends. And soon he was asking his friends to mail items to other friends by writing "Please send to". Some of the mailings were forwarded, some were returned and some discarded.

Through these means he was able to build up a whole network of artists adding to his original mailings and forwarding them to one another.

In l970 the Whitney Museum showed the first exhibition of Johnson's mailings to and from the New York Correspondence School. It was called Correspon-dance because the exercise was like a dance, backwards and forwards between the participants.

By the mid-l970s Ray's mailart had caught on and become an art movement apart from his original "dance" and had spread to other countries, continents and artists with their own spin on the original idea of correspondancing.

The movement continued to spin, sometimes out of control, and Ray Johnson
became somewhat of a recluse in upper New York State where, on January 13th, l995, he mailed his body off the Sag Harbor Bridge as his last contribution to mailart. The police designated this act as a suicide, but in actual fact it was a mailing.

Submitted November 2003 by Marie Tavroges Stilkind.

She writes: "I was the first "secretary" of the New York Correspondence School. My help in starting the school was only with mailing out the envelopes that Ray would bring over to my apartment or to where I worked, at Juilliard School of Music. He had been mailing back and forth for several years before I met him but gave it the name, suggested by the artist E.M. Plunkett, in the early spring of l962.

I had heard of Ray before I met him as I too went to Black Mountain College at the same time as Norman Solomon, who was really instrumental in encouraging Ray Johnson with the mailings. Ray and I remained friends for many years even after I left New York.

Besides being a gifted and creative artist, he was a kind and good friend. In actuality, his life was a work of art.

Most of the original artists and participants of the mail art movement are dead. Ray became associated with the Fluxus movement but was not an active member.






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