"I happen in my work to use words. And perhaps it’s all incorrect that these be looked at in terms of painting or creativity or beauty or whatever. It might very well just be useful objects like an automobile or a chair. And these happen to be things hanging on the wall. And what I wish — well, it would have to be a great interest — would be to try to present what goes into the making of it. I never used to believe in a work of art being bought."
Ray Johnson, 1968
Known as the most famous unknown artist in New York, Ray Johnson was a visionary of pop art, performance, installation and happenings, and was the founder of correspondence art, phone art, Moticos and nothings. Born in Detroit on October 16th, 1927, Ray attended Cass Tech High. He took weekly classes at the Detroit Art Institute and spent a summer drawing at Ox-Bow School in Saugatuck, Michigan, affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1945 to 1948, Johnson attended Black Mountain College, where he met John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and Elaine and Willem de Kooning. In 1955, he used the neologism Moticos, as a Zen inspired name for the asymmetrical pop-art collages he made from newspapers, magazines and found poetry. These forms were organized into 3-dimensional patterns and subjects, then displayed freely in public spaces; on sidewalks and gallery lobbies of New York City. They are often referred to as proto-happenings or guerilla street art. Ray worked primarily with collage, poetry and ink drawings, connecting with an ever expanding circle of artist-friends that included John Cage, Frank O’Hara, Norman Solomon, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Richard Lippold and Robert Rauschenberg. The true importance of Ray Johnson lies in his preoccupation with the distribution of the artwork, in the process of which he established a worldwide network, which continues to uphold his practice of freely circulated works, stimulating long distance aesthetic communication, friendship, and community. He lived in New York City from 1949 to 1968, when he moved to Long island. On January 13, 1995, Johnson was seen diving off a bridge in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and backstroking out to sea. His body washed up on the beach the following day.
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