Whitford Fine Art
6 Duke Street St James's
London SW1Y 6BN
020 7930 9332
Ray Johnson was once called 'New York's most famous unknown artist'. Johnson was relatively unknown compared to other artists that he went on to influence, not because of his artistic skills, but rather because he wished to keep a low profile. He was not driven by fame and fortune and as his good friend, Toby Spiselman (Bloch, 1995) stated; "Ray didn't talk about it, he just did it!. Johnson in fact had a very powerful influence and contribution in some of the biggest art movements of the twentieth century.
Johnson was born in Detroit, Michigan. He studied art at Black Mountain College from 1945 to 1948. His fellow students and teachers were some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century such as Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Albert Einstein, and Buckminster Fuller. His student contemporaries were Kenneth Noland, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, and Susan Weil.
Ray Johnson is considered to be the 'Founding Father of mail art', (Mail art is an art that uses the postal system as a medium) having exchanged work with his friend Arthur Secunda as early as 1943. Ray Johnson is also credited with being originator of installation art and one of the first performance artists. In 1962 he founded the New York Correspondence School of Art a name invented by Ed Plunket, and in 1971 he founded the Marcel Duchamp Club. He was an exceedingly influential figure in the Pop Art movement and some would even go as far as saying that he was the first ever Pop artist, with his early celebrity collages of James Dean, Shirley Temple and Elvis Presley in the 1950's. Andy Warhol and the other great American pop artists were all influenced by Johnson.
On June 3rd, 1968 Johnson was mugged and attacked in lower Manhattan. This affected him greatly and he decided to move to Glen Cove, Long Island and then to Locust Valley. Johnson continued his work in collage, sent out mail art, and staged numerous performances, but he became increasingly reclusive. As his contemporaries became famous, Johnson cultivated his role as an outsider. From 1982 on, he repeatedly refused offers from numerous galleries to exhibit his art, and for the last five years of his life, he refused all public exhibitions of his work.