Collage Art by Ray Johnson

Untitled (Amei Wallach) 1977 collage on masonite 15 7/8 x 15 7/8 inches

The recent package of postcards that I received has piqued my interest in Ray Johnson once again. Life has a way of pointing me to answers that you seek, and sometimes new conclusions can be found in things that you have already examined. And so it is this case with my personal study into the life of Ray.
He was the father of mailart, the New York Correspondence School, the man who mysteriously jumped off a bridge to his death...but amidst all these personas was a serious collage artist. I found a really nice selection of 48 Johnson collage works on the gallery site of Kinz, Tillou + Feigen. My eyes were opened to his expertise immediately. He had a way of extracting the essence of a person (or persons!). He stripped people of their facial features, and filled their hollow shell of a silhouette with active imagery containing hidden cryptic messages and references. The technique is fascinating and after looking through only a few of these works, the collage genius of Ray Johnson becomes manifest.

Untitled (Janet Flanner's List) 1974-1989 collage on cardboard panel 15 x 15 inches

Sculpture by Max Ernst
In Untitled (Janet Flanner's List) I really appreciate the play of black and white, and the little figures that Ray Johnson creates...they seem so retro and futuristic at the same time. I think of Max Ernst when I see some of the faces in Ray Johnsons work. Some Ernst sculptures especially share this face-in-the-artwork similarity. (please pardon my own strange parallels!)

Untitled (Bill de Kooning) 1977-1990 collage on masonite 12 x 9 inches
Something about the echoing of shapes and the use of lines in Untitled (Bill de Kooning) really attacts me also. And here again the little cartoons and faces appear. They are such benign little creatures...they don't impose happiness, sadness or any other emotion to me. They don't stand out necessarily, but instead seem part of the design of the grander scheme of things. Brilliant.
One of my favorite things about collage is it's ability to blend things and make things one, a tenet of the Ray Johnson philosophy.
I know that he had his own xerox machine. And I also see a lot of monotone collage. I know he could paint and draw...but I am guessing he used the xerox machine extensively to create some of the pieces that later become part of these collages. This really personalizes things. I equate this to my own mash up acts of photography, alteration, print, cut, paint, paste. There's something about the black and white. It wakes up my pen and ink roots. I get to revel in the lines and shapes. I think inside of me is a bit of a cubist.

Untitled (Andy with Cows) 1976 collage on illustration board 15 x 15 inches
That should be enough evidence of collage intelligence. There are so many more examples of Ray's creativity. Visit the Kinz, Tillou + Feigen site. I think some of these pieces (and others) may perhaps be for sale. I wish I could afford any of them!! A collage collection worth half its salt certainly should contain at least one of Ray Johnsons works. I better start saving.




Your readers might be interested in this piece I wrote about Ray, focusing particularly on the film, How to Draw a Bunny.




julie said...

thanx matthew...I have to check up on this!

___A place to find all kinds of information about collage.